Friday, July 6, 2007

Fact Sheet: Psychologist Participation in Torture

Also posted at NION, Progressive Historians, and Daily Kos

Psychologists organized into "Psychologists for an Ethical APA" plan to meet at the August convention of the American Psychological Association with education, protests, and political pressure. The protest will be at noon, August 18 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, and will feature a number of prominent speakers from the psychology community. The aim of the protest is to support the proposed moratorium within APA to stop psychologist participation in national security and military interrogations associated with torture and abuse.

Opposition to stopping such collaboration often centers around claims that there is no documented evidence of psychologist participation in torture or abusive methods. The following brief fact sheet addresses such claims. I will follow with a more comprehensive essay on the subject in the near future.

This fact sheet documents the activities of a number of military psychologists in planning and participation in actions that can only be called torture. Names are not usually available, due to redaction in classified records. In such cases, we can only say that a psychologist is specifically named as a party to a particular activity.

Please note that what follows is not meant to be an inclusive list. Bold type indicates emphases added. Links to documentation are copious and I encourage readers to check them out for themselves.


Case No. 1 – Major John Leso and the Interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani

Two government documents detail medical and psychological participation with the interrogation of Prisoner 063, Mohammed al-Qahtani, at Guantanamo Bay between November 23, 2002 and January 11, 2003 (Zagorin and Duffy 2005). The first is an 83-page interrogation log (ORCON 2003). The second is an Army investigation of complaints of mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, including Prisoner 063 (United States Army 2005, 13–21)....

Major L [John Leso]., 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....

Transgressions against Islamic and Arab mores for sexual modesty were employed.... He was forced to wear a bra, and a woman’s thong was put on his head. He was dressed as a woman and compelled to dance with a male interrogator. He was told that he had homosexual tendencies and that other prisoners knew this.... interrogators repeatedly strip-searched him as a “control measure.”

Also,9171,1071201,00.html where you can read from the interrogation log of Prisoner 063.

Case No. 2 – Psychologist at the Secret Prison Interrogation of Marwan Jabour

The story of the arrest and detention of Marwan Jabour is described by Human Rights Watch, and can be accessed at the following:

Jabour’s testimony documents the presence of psychologists at secret prison sites, and involved in interrogation of so-called “ghost prisoners”, i.e., prisoners who have not been registered as captured. Mr. Jabour was never permitted to contact his family. He spent a year and a half in prison without ever seeing sunlight. He testifies to seeing two psychologists during his stay at a secret prison site, while undergoing environmental manipulation and torture, including forced stress positions, sensory overload, humiliation, and isolation.

Case No. 3 – Psychologist Participation in the Interrogation of a German Citizen Kidnapped by the CIA

Khaled El Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese origin, gave testimony to a committee of the European Parliament in March 2006 regarding his kidnapping by CIA agents while he was in Macedonia in December 2003. According to the investigation of the Temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners (which can be accessed at ):

In Afghanistan, Mr El Masri said he was tortured and interrogated by several individuals who addressed him in Arabic "with a Palestinian accent". According to Mr El Masri, a German called 'Sam' and an American psychologist also interrogated him before he was finally released in an airport in Albania.

Case No. 4 – Psychologist Present During Abusive Use of Military Dogs

The military’s Schmidt-Furlow report followed up on accusations by FBI agents at Guantanamo that illegal, abusive and coercive techniques were being used on detainees at the Naval Prison at Guantanamo Bay. The report can be accessed at

A portion of the report details the case of “Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was subjected to a coercive interrogation managed by a psychologist with the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (Special interrogation plan #2, p. 21-26)”.

Discussion: b. An interrogator testified that the MWD (Military Working Dog) was in the booth on one occasion for the subject of the first Special Interrogation Plan.... Specifically, the first interrogator stated that the second interrogator told him that a MWD was brought into the doorway of the interrogation room and ordered by the dog handler to growl, show teeth and bark at the detainee. In addition a psychologist assigned to the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) for JTF-170/JTF-GTMO witnessed the use of a MWD named “Zeus” during a military interrogation of the subject of the first Special Interrogation Plan during the November 2002 time period.

Case No. 5 – Sharing of Confidential Psychologist Evaluations of Prisoners

In June 2004, the Washington Post reported on medical personnel sharing information gleaned from medical records with interrogators. The following is from the Post article, “Detainees' Medical Files Shared”, which can be accessed at

Matthews said an individual's records would routinely list psychologists' comments about conditions such as phobias, as well as family details, including the names and ages of a spouse or children.

Such information, he said, would give interrogators "tremendous power" over prisoners. Matthews said he was disturbed that his team, which issued a generally favorable report on the base's medical facility, was not told patient records were shared with interrogators.

Similar accusations have been documented by Physicians for Human Rights at

In its leaked report, the ICRC [International Red Cross] complained to the US about BSCT and the fact that doctors and medical personnel conveyed information about detainees’ mental health and vulnerabilities directly to interrogators.... Evidently, interrogators found this approach effective. One e-mail about Guantánamo made available through the FOIA lawsuit says, “I’ve met with the BISC (Biscuit) people several times and found them to be a great resource. They know everything that’s going on with each detainee, who they’re talking to, who the leaders are, etc. I’ve encouraged the interview teams to meet with them prior to doing their interviews.”

Case No. 6 – Military Psychologists Transfer SERE-POW Training for Use in Abusive Interrogations

In an July 2005 article from the New Yorker magazine by Jane Mayer, “The Experiment”, accessed it was suggested that participation of military psychologists from SERE advised Guantanamo interrogators in abusive interrogation techniques. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, and is a military program begun in the early 1950s that is supposed to prepare U.S. military personnel for the stress of capture and the POW experience.

While other researchers had made similar charges, documentary corroboration can be found in the recently released Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General report on detainee abuse, originally dated August 2006, which can be accessed at

"On September 16, 2002, the Army Special Operations Command and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency co-hosted a SERE psychologist conference at Fort Bragg for JTF-170 [the military component responsible for interrogations at Guantánamo] interrogation personnel. The Army's Behavioral Science Consultation Team from Guantánamo Bay also attended the conference. Joint Personnel Recovery Agency personnel briefed JTF-170 representatives on the exploitation techniques and methods used in resistance (to interrogation) training at SERE schools. The JTF-170 personnel understood that they were to become familiar with SERE training and be capable of determining which SERE information and techniques might be useful in interrogations at Guantánamo.

Case No. 7 – SERE Psychologist Pushes “Harsher Methods” in Interrogation

In Jane Mayer’s July 2005 New Yorker article, “The Experiment”, online at

Mayer describes an incident involving a SERE psychologist named James Mitchell. He was involved in an interrogation at an “undisclosed location.” According to the article: early as March, 2002, James Mitchell, a psychologist formerly affiliated with sere, appeared inside an interrogation room where the C.I.A. was holding a “high-value” Al Qaeda suspect.... Mitchell worked for years as a SERE administrator....

According to a counter-terrorism expert familiar with the interrogation of the Al Qaeda suspect, Mitchell announced that the suspect needed to be subjected to rougher methods. The man should be treated like the dogs in a classic behavioral-psychology experiment, he said, referring to studies performed in the nineteen-sixties by Martin Seligman and other graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania.... called “learned helplessness.”


I hope this short fact sheet contributes to the discussion and organization surrounding the structure and format by which the United States military and CIA use behavioral health workers as integral actors in their illegal interrogation activities.

For more information on this subject, you can read this diary: Open Letter to APA President Brehm: Change APA course on interrogations now

or this diary: Secretary Gates, Stop SERE-type Torture

and Action Diary! Your Help Needed RIGHT NOW to Stop Torture


Trudy Bond said...

Great job organizing this - see you in San Fran. thanks,

Valtin said...

Thanks Trudy.

I have even more than what I published, and am saving it for later distribution. The more disturbing info involves child psychologists treating kidnapped children at secret prisons, e.g., in the case of the kidnapping of the children of Khalid Sheik Mohammad, as reported in UK Guardian (if I remember correctly).

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