Thursday, November 29, 2007

APA on the Road to Damascus?

Also posted at OpEdNews

There's nothing like defeat to demoralize the vanquished and embolden the victorious. But such clearcut victories or defeats, while they may happen in warfare, rarely happen in political battle. Due to repeated charges of torture of detainees, and the lack of elementary rights of prisoners in U.S. detention centers like Guantanamo, supporters and opponents of a proposed ban on U.S. psychologist participation in national security interrogations disputed their varying platforms at last August's convention of the American Psychological Association (APA).

The resulting resolution was a mixed affair. The document was touted as a "reaffirmation" of a 2006 APA resolution on psychology and national security, and was purportedly aimed "Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Its Application to Individuals Defined in the United States Code as 'Enemy Combatants'". Its text specifically banned psychologist participation in interrogations that included "water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation, sexual humiliation, rape, cultural or religious humiliation, exploitation of phobias or psychopathology, [and] induced hypothermia..."

The resolution also listed a number of contingently rejected coercive techniques, which centered around forms of psychological torture, such as use of psychotropic drugs, isolation, sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation. The contingency? These techniques were not supposed to be used for information-gathering purposes. Some, like sleep and sensory deprivation were not to be employed if they caused "significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm."

Why distinguish between techniques this way, a number of people wanted to know. I've previously explained that the latter techniques constitute a form of psychological softening-up preparatory to interrogation, which itself can then be conducted in traditional, "rapport-building" ways.

An Epistolary Intervention

Subsequent to the passing of the resolution at the Council meeting of the APA, and the rejection of amendments meant to limit psychologist participation, APA President Sharon Brehm and Chief Executive Officer Norman Anderson wrote letters to President Bush, General Michael Hayden (Director of the CIA), and Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Spector of the Senate Judiciary Committee "calling on U.S. leaders to safeguard the physical and psychological welfare and human rights of individuals incarcerated by the U.S. government in foreign detention centers." (For full text of letters, click here.)

"The ongoing U.S. Senate confirmation process involving Attorney General nominee Michael B. Mukasey provides a timely opportunity," they write, "to expand the July 2007 Executive Order to clarify that "enhanced" interrogation techniques, such as forced nudity, waterboarding, and mock executions, which are defined as torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against Torture, shall not be used or condoned by the U.S. government."

In reply, psychologist-activist Stephen Soldz praised the APA statements for taking a stand against certain methods of CIA-style "enhanced interrogation", and for contending that "the government to disallow any testimony resulting from the use of these techniques." However, he also noticed "severe weaknesses" in these statements:

First, they ignore the core of the CIA's torture program, which, despite all the media attention now, is not waterboarding, but is, rather, prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation, that mind-numbing emptiness that removes all sense of humanity. While the APA's 2007 Resolution took an ambiguous and carefully nuanced and parsed position on isolation and sensory deprivation and many other techniques, the APA unfortunately chose to raise in these letters only techniques that are likely not in current use, despite the controversy about their legality.... the APA has chosen yet again to trail the numerous critics in the press and the Democrats in Congress, who also condemn waterboarding but fail to mention the techniques believed currently in use at the CIA's black sites....

Further, the letters, while implicitly criticizing the legality of the detention centers, expresses a rather odd approach to the role of psychologists serving there in abetting the human rights violations at the core of these facility's existence. The APA refuses to state that aiding these illegal institutions is unethical. Rather, it leaves tht decision up to each individual psychologist....

These letters show that the APA has gone far from its early hear no evil defense at all costs of maintaining psychologists in interrogations. The organization's leadership finally acknowledges, albeit timidly and largely implicitly, that abuses are occurring. But it still refuses to come to terms with the systemic nature of that abuse, or with the crucial role that psychologists played in creating that system of abuse and maintains the fiction that psychologists' primary concern was the safety of the detainees. And the APA still refuses to acknowledge that psychologists serving as interrogation consultants in illegal prisons are abettors of that illegality.

An Accusation, A Clarification, and... An Apostasy?

And so the controversy settled down into the usual hubbub of blog entries, listserv interchanges, and spikes of e-mail traffic. Then like a blast of cold winter air, on November 18 an article by Scott Horton over at Harper's set APA brass back on their heels. The impetus for Horton's column was the leak of the Guantanamo Standard Operating Procedures manual, which showed that use of isolation, sensory deprivation, guard dogs, and other forms of coercive detention were in full play, despite all claims otherwise, at the U.S. facility in Cuba. It couldn't have soothed APA nerves to find Mr. Horton quoting yet another Soldz article, and agreeing that it was more than coincidence that the contingently banned interrogation techniques described above were the same sort that were practiced at Guantanamo. The Harper's article continues:

As Soldz notes, it is now apparent that from the outset of the debate the APA leadership pursued a strategy of protecting the actual techniques of abuse which were being used in Guantánamo. And we have specific reason to believe that some in the APA leadership had actual knowledge of those techniques. The leadership pursued its plan by involving a key military officer who was probably an author of these processes as its voice in presenting the matter.

Scott Horton's article was followed two days later by a letter to Harper's from Stephen Behnke, APA's Director of Ethics. The key section of his letter follows:

With the recent posting on the Internet of what has been identified as the U.S. military’s 2003 operating manual for the Guantanamo detention center, attention has been directed to the use of isolation and sensory deprivation as interrogation procedures. APA policy specifically prohibits using any such technique, alone or in combination with other techniques for the purpose of breaking down a detainee. In a recent, public exchange (found at with an author of APA’s 2007 resolution, I directly addressed this issue: “Given the concerns that have been expressed let me state clearly and unequivocally the 2007 Resolution should never be interpreted as allowing isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation, or sleep deprivation either alone or in combination to be used as interrogation techniques to break down a detainee in order to elicit information.” This position builds upon a 2006 APA resolution, which stated that psychologists must act in accordance with human rights instruments relevant to their roles. (emphasis mine)

Furthermore, Dr. Behnke promised that APA's Ethics Committee, "with input from our members", would produce an interrogations casebook and commentary, complete with vignettes, that would clarify APA's position that "that 'enhanced' interrogation techniques (also known as 'no-touch torture' and 'torture light') are unethical and prohibited."

This strongly worded statement followed another attempt at clarification by Dr. Behnke, this time in reply to questions from the Council representative for APA's Division 39 (Psychoanalysis). In this letter, preceding his reply to Scott Horton by a little under two weeks, the Director of Ethics wandered a bit, noting that temporary isolation or sleep disruption may happen as part of normal security operations in a detention center like Guantanamo. He then said (no link):

I want to identify and highlight an issue that I realize is of great concern to many members, that the 2007 Resolution creates a "loophole" that allows psychologists to participate in some "enhanced" interrogation techniques. As I mentioned earlier, I fully recognize that the language of the Resolution regarding these behaviors was not as clear as the authors hoped it would be and as many of our members closely following this issue believe is necessary. I want to say emphatically, however, that the intention of the Resolution is to prohibit participation in interrogations that involve abuse, torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment through the use of isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation and sleep deprivation. At no point was there any discussion of, or intention to create, a "loophole" that would allow psychologists to participate in abusive interrogations.

Given the concerns that have been expressed let me state clearly and unequivocally the 2007 Resolution should never be interpreted as allowing isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation, or sleep deprivation either alone or in combination to be used as interrogation techniques to break down a detainee in order to elicit information as described in [Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First booklet] Leave No Marks. My strong sense is that the Ethics Committee, with input from our members, will be able to find language that makes clear the intent of this language in the 2007 Resolution, that these "enhanced" interrogation techniques, all other abusive techniques and techniques of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment are prohibited. Again, the Committee may well decide to adopt the language from Leave No Marks in relation to these terms. If members believe this or any other language in the Resolution is unclear or insufficient, I encourage them to communicate their concerns to the Ethics Committee as the Committee works on the casebook and commentary.

Whither the APA?

There is some debate within circles that have opposed APA policy on interrogations in the past whether Dr. Behnke's letters represent a real change of heart from APA, or more obfuscation, delay, and parsing of language. Certainly, there is no nascent call from APA leadership to withdraw psychologists from Guantanamo or CIA "black site" secret prisons and interrogation centers. There is also nothing about working in conditions where detainees are held in indefinite detention.

One noteworthy critic wrote to his listserv:

It doesn't address the APA's systemic problems and stalling and just absurd behavior for the last few years. It doesn't fix those problems and they just are not going to go away that easily. They have complied to some of our requests and points, but I'm confident that nothing has really been internalized in the minds of the leadership or in the organizational structure....

The letter does not address the seemingly more subtle but ultimately critical harm related issues that are intrinsic to the techniques in the Army Field Manual (fear up harsh, ego down)....

The letter promises the handling of redefinitions and clarifications in a casebook that we have long sought and which has never appeared. External commentary for the casebook is not due until February. The ethics committee is on a good timeline to run out the clock on the Bush administration with the final release of this casebook. And as others have said, this letter is just a letter, and not a revision of the resolution itself.

My own contribution to the internal politicking follows below, quoting from my own posting at a private listserv:

I also agree Behnke's letter represents... well, something positive, or at least indicative of the pressure they are feeling. I think that Stephen Soldz's point about changes in Washington may have something to do with it (if not upcoming hearings).

I sent Behnke a letter today asking for some further clarification.... What follows is not the whole letter, just the substantive queries:

1) Does the term "eliciting information" including instances in which the determination of deception by an interrogatee is the primary task? In other words, do the proscribed techniques, qualified or not, also refer to the assessment of deception?

2) In your letter, you suggest that the second category of techniques, i.e., those "that cannot be 'used in an interrogation process for the purpose of eliciting information'", may be used "when these techniques are used for administrative or security purposes in a detention facility". You use "hooding" as an example, or "nakedness". Now the other techniques in this category, according to the 2007 Resolution, include "stress positions, the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate, physical assault including slapping or shaking, exposure to extreme heat or cold, threats of harm or death". I cannot see how these latter techniques could ever be used "for administrative or security purposes in a detention facility". Therefore, I find your reasoning on this point to be problematic.

3) I am bothered by the reliance on terms like "prolonged" or "extended" when applied to conditions or techniques such as isolation, sensory deprivation, or sleep deprivation, at least when it comes to instances of making policy or providing guidelines. As you must know, and as I discussed in my presentation at the convention, even small amounts of sensory deprivation can have deleterious effects upon an individual, and this is especially true in conditions of detention, following upon the "shock of capture". These effects are amplified further when an individual has no control over the situation, or has no indication over how long such deprivation will occur. There is ample empirical evidence on this score, with over fifty years of psychological research to back me up, some of it by some of the most celebrated scientists in our field.

On the issue of sleep deprivation, the current Army Field Manual on interrogation currently allows, in special circumstances, the limitation of sleep to four hours nightly for up to 30 days. However, empirical research shows that this amounts to injurious treatment, and would represent extended or prolonged sleep deprivation by any medical or psychological criterion.

Perhaps you mean to take up these matters in the casebook. However, since that casebook likely remains some months or even a year or more from completion, I would like to know the thinking of yourself and others on what quantitatively constitutes "extended" or "prolonged" deprivation. Are we even on the same page when it comes to this?

.... Finally, all the above will mean little if psychologists pursue collaboration with governmental agencies in settings where fundamental human rights are abridged, e.g., the right of habeas corpus, settings where "ghost prisoners" are maintained, or in settings or working for institutions were inmates are rendered to foreign countries where torture and abuse of prisoners is practiced.

(For the record, in reply Dr. Behnke assured me that my concerns would be transmitted to the APA Ethics Committee.)

Others debating the issue of how to approach APA given their "new" tack are more resolute and terse in their responses. "This level of dissemblance and double-speak boils my blood", writes one. Another member, who has a lot of experience with police and interrogations, and has been very critical of APA's policies, writes of Behnke and his letters:

He will commiserate, debate, parse sentences, and even change a few terrible details. But the one thing he and the APA will not do is withdraw their support for psychologist involvement in interrogations. We must push for an APA referendum on this.

Proverbially, only time will tell if the latest gyrations of APA on the interrogations matter represents real movement in that organization, or the latest in a series of political maneuvers.

In my opinion, the real power at APA, at least so far as this issue goes, does not really lie in its executive board, nor in its elected Council. It emanates from the Executive Branch of the U.S. government, and most specifically from the Department of Defense and the CIA. On defense/interrogation issues, the APA acts as a subsidiary branch of the military and intelligence agencies.

If APA has differences now with Bush and some in DoD over use of certain coercive interrogation techniques, such differences are no greater than those already found within those governmental agencies, and are, in fact, reflective of intra-governmental and both intra- and inter-agency disputes. It seems likely, as the Bush Administration heads into its final lame-duck year, the exacerbation of tensions will make for a slightly more fluid situation politically. But whatever openings there may be are likely to be frozen by the emphasis on two-party electoralism in the United States.

Is the APA headed towards a confrontation with the inherent contradictions between its humanist mandate and a history of subordination to the Pentagon, CIA, and national security priorities? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Tyger, tyger, burning bright"

Happy 250th birthday to the English poet and champion of human liberty, William Blake!

From his America, A Prophecy, 1793:

Fiery the Angels rose, and as they rose deep thunder roll'd
Around their shores, indignant burning with the fires of Orc;
And Boston's Angel cried aloud as they flew thro' the dark night.

He cried: `Why trembles honesty; and, like a murderer,
Why seeks he refuge from the frowns of his immortal station?
Must the generous tremble, and leave his joy to the idle, to the pestilence
That mock him? Who commanded this? What God? What Angel?
To keep the gen'rous from experience till the ungenerous
Are unrestrain'd performers of the energies of nature;
Till pity is become a trade, and generosity a science
That men get rich by; and the sandy desert is giv'n to the strong?
What God is he writes laws of peace, and clothes him in a tempest?
What pitying Angel lusts for tears, and fans himself with sighs?
What crawling villain preaches abstinence and wraps himself
In fat of lambs? No more I follow, no more obedience pay!'

So cried he, rending off his robe and throwing down his sceptre
In sight of Albion's Guardian; and all the Thirteen Angels
Rent off their robes to the hungry wind, and threw their golden sceptres
Down on the land of America; indignant they descended

Headlong from out their heav'nly heights, descending swift as fires
Over the land; naked and flaming are their lineaments seen
In the deep gloom; by Washington and Paine and Warren they stood;
And the flame folded, roaring fierce within the pitchy night...

Blake was a rebel, a mystic, an engraver, and an amazing poet. He was arrested in 1803 for "high treason" for uttering "Damn the King, damn all his subjects..." Luckily, he was acquitted.

Blake's critique of the Industrial Revolution's brutal materialism, and his search for a poetic and religious freedom that would break the chains of human bondage mark him as one of the most important writers giving birth to the modern age. He protested slavery, and believed in racial and sexual equality: "As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various)".

Generations of poets and writers have found great inspriation in the massive, if often obscure, poetry of his "Prophetic Books." His Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience were lyrical portraits of childlike innocence and terror, and a protest against a world that would swallow up human souls in the "demonic mills" of rising capitalism.

Oh, that we could use the spirit of Blake to walk among us today!

"If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." (from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

UN Labels Taser Use a Form of Torture

In a follow-up on an article I wrote last September on the notorious tasering of a speaker at a John Kerry forum by University of Florida police, there's this from the UK Daily Telegraph today:

TASER electronic stun guns are a form of torture that can kill, a UN committee has declared after several recent deaths in North America.

"The use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture,'' the UN's Committee against Torture said.

"In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events,'' the committee of 10 experts said....

The UN committee made its comments in recommendations to Portugal, which has bought the newest Taser X26 stun gun for use by police.

Portugal "should consider giving up the use of the Taser X26,'' as its use can have a grave physical and mental impact on those targeted, which violates the UN's Convention against Torture, the experts said.

Here is the relevant section from the UN Convention Against Torture press release on November 23, from one of two sessions the UNCAT holds each year:

The Committee regretted that Portugal used detention for identification purposes, that could sometime lead to collective arrests. The Committee was also worried by information it had received on the persistent violence between prisoners in places of detentions, including sexual violence, and by the high number of deaths in places of detention, due in great part to HIV/AIDS and suicide. The Committee was worried that the use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use.

I could not find the section in the UN document where experts recommend giving up tasers, but will rely for now on DT reporting (echoed in other periodicals).

Bravo to the UN experts for noticing that this grave form of electric shock to disable police targets is both dangerous and extremely painful. The bar has been lowered so far for police departments around the world, that routine use of chokeholds, tasering, firing rubber bullets, and other forms of so-called "non-lethal" forms of force has become epidemic around the world. This decision helps in the fight against the worst forms of misuse of force by state powers.

Inside a Mercenary Compound in Iraq

Jared Polis has written up a fascinating look at his stay inside a contractor's (mercenary) compound in Iraq. Polis, by the way, is a Democratic Party candidate of the 2nd district Congressional seat in Colorado. I'm not offering any unqualified endorsements at this time (although I like people like Polis and Jerry Northington in Delaware, and Kucinich in the presidential race). So this posting is not an endorsement. The article by Polis is just a very, very interesting read (emphases below are by the author):

The facts and observations below are all true but I am changing and switching a few details so that the particular compound and individuals are not readily identifiable. I do this because (only somewhat tongue-in-cheek) these are not people that I want to be on the wrong side of, but more importantly because whatever you think of the way contractors operate and the fact that we hire mercenaries, the individuals and particular company I visited are not at fault nor would I want to single them out just because they happened to be hospitable to me. Insofar as you agree with me that there is a problem, the fault lies with the system and the America’s utilization of private for-profit armed militias.

The guards throughout this compound are Angolan, and their commanding officers (or "managers") are South African. The senior staff they protect are a variety of nationalities including American, Western European, Egyptian, and Romanian, and stateless. The company that employs them, like most (all?) of them, is American. Mercenaries have always existed and have participated on all sides of major wars, but the corporatization of mercenaries is a startling spectacle to behold and Iraq is ground zero.

Concrete bunkers form a maze throughout the compound, and walking around the compound staring into the eyes of armed Angolans, images flash in my head of the movies Blood Diamonds and Lord of War and I wonder what kind of life stories these men have. The hardened and sometimes battle-scarred faces stare back as they check to see that I’m wearing the correct company badge to let me pass by. One time they spotted me with my camera and they called over their supervisor who "reminded" me not to take pictures and then thankfully let me on my way....

The senior ranks of contractors providing technical expertise to the Iraqi government are nearly all over fifty. There are a few in their forties and I think I met only one under age thirty. They are a hardened lot. Some have worked oil rigs, some have worked other wars, some are just out of the military, and some just don’t say (and I’m not about to press them). The armed mercenaries themselves from South Africa, Angola, Uganda, Peru, and Chile among other nations are perhaps in their late 20s, 30s, and 40s but it is hard to tell because they are so battle-hardened and old for their chronological age....

The first question here is always "who are you with?" rather than "where are you from?" The contractors hold their corporate identity above their national identity. Indeed, they come from many nations and the common corporate culture bonds them and allows them to work together for their mutual benefit. It is eerily reminiscent of the post-nation state futures depicted in dystopian corporatocracy science fiction or anime. To a person, the contractors we talked to were confused by us because we were with an NGO and not a corporation.

Some of the contractors are American (at this compound, perhaps a quarter are). They are typically social eccentrics over age fifty.

It's worth reading the whole thing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Reprint: FBI & American Psychological Association Attack Patient Confidentiality

[The following was first posted on January 7, 2007 at the Daily Kos website. It is being reprinted here as of significant interest to readers of this blog. I have no reason to believe that anything important has changed since this article was originally written. One exception might be the peregrinations undertaken by the American Psychological Association on the question of interrogations, which can be followed in numerous other articles at this site. Another exception would be revelations that emerged during the year regarding psychologist participation in U.S. government torture, and this additional material is included in the following text in the form of an editorial emendation.]

I recently came across an FBI report on a conference jointly sponsored by the FBI and the American Psychological Association. Given the recent and ongoing controversies over the use of psychologists and other medical personnel in U.S. torture programs abroad, I thought a close examination of the matter of this conference could be interesting. -- What you will read may shock you (especially if you are interested in mental health practice). It will certainly enlighten you, and help fill in the gaps that exist in our understanding of U.S. interrogation techniques, the "war on terror", and the government campaign to curtail our liberties.

Countering Terrorism: Integration of Practice and Theory
An Invitational Conference

FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia
February 28, 2002
Sponsored by: Behavioral Science Unit, FBI Academy Science Directorate,
American Psychological Association
University of Pennsylvania, School of Arts & Sciences
and the Solomon Asch Center for the Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict
Decade of Behavior Initiative

It was during a meeting of members of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) and members of the American Psychological Association, two large and complex bureaucracies, when the idea of an invitational conference on countering terrorism was born. The excitement of bringing together highly qualified law enforcement officers with various terrorism experts and academics was palpable.

(All quotes from the report are linked here, and found on the FBI's own servers.)

Susan Brandon: Top Psychologist for the Bush Administration?

The FBI report begins with an introduction by a member of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) and two members of the American Psychological Association (APA). Of the latter, the first listed is Susan Brandon, Ph.D., "Senior Scientist". The second is Geoffrey K. Mumford, Ph.D., "Director of Science Policy" at APA.

Susan Brandon, it should be noted, is:

...the Behavioral & Social Science Principal at the Mitre Corporation [a company highly linked to U.S. Air Defense]. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Dr. Brandon served as APA's senior scientist, and later as Assistant Director of Social, Behavioral, and Educational Sciences for the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy.... In December 2005, she was awarded the American Psychological Association (APA) Presidential Citation in "recognition of her visionary efforts to promote the value of the psychological and behavioral sciences as they apply to our counter-terrorism, homeland security, and national security interests". [LINK]

Brandon went on to become an instrumental member of the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBES) Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council's Committees on Science and Homeland and National Security. As Geoffrey Mumford wrote in an article for the APA in 2005, Brandon

... joined the SBES Subcommittee to guide the interagency initiative on behalf of President Bush's science adviser. At APA, Brandon had helped steer much of the association's scientific outreach relevant to counter-terrorism after 9/11.

Reflecting on her role and the ongoing work being conducted through NSTC, Brandon noted "the SBES Subcommittee is an opportunity for the social and behavioral sciences to have a voice and a presence at the table that is unique in recent Washington policy processes."

The result of Brandon's participation was a report, Combating Terrorism: Research Priorities in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. Much in this fairly innocuous and insubstantial report came from material discussed at the Quantico conference, which is the subject of this diary.

What was left out, as always, is what is most telling: the concrete policies and roles determined for psychologists in the U.S. Homeland Security apparatus, and the changes that will have to take place in American psychology for this to take place.

What emerges is a portrait of institutional American psychology -- and its top leadership -- eager to have front seats at the spoils table that is capturing the billions of dollars flowing into national security in the wake of 9/11. (One is reminded of the participation of former APA president and top U.S. psychologist, Martin Seligman, in discussions on psychological debility via learned helplessness at SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape], a military program implicated in a famous New Yorker expose in the development of torture techniques used by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.)

[Author's Note: Since this article was originally written, the development of torture techniques by psychologists working for SERE and the CIA was confirmed in a report by the Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The story had earlier been pieced together in large part by journalists Jane Mayer and Michael Otterman. Their work was put into context of the OIG report by psychologist-activst Stephen Soldz in a terrific article last May.]

The Quantico Conference "Scenarios"

On February 28, 2002, more than 70 academic scholars and researchers, and personnel from justice, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, met at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia....

The participants, roughly half academic scholars and researchers and half law enforcement personnel, dispersed into seven small groups to discuss scenarios that had been developed before the conference by the FBI. These scenarios described some of the current problems that the FBI, other law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies are facing as they try to discover cadres of terrorists or those who harbor them, as well as deter support for terrorism by individuals, designated groups, and communities.

What kind of scenarios were discussed?

Scenario 1: A trustworthy local businessman reports suspicious activity by an apparently Middle Eastern neighbor....

Problem: This scenario was viewed as quite typical of the many that have come through local police and FBI offices since 9/11. The problem is how to develop an effective triage system...

Strategies: Make use of data gathering/vetting systems already in use in other situations, such as in the medical and legal professions.

In other words, here the FBI is describing the need to develop better Information Evaluation Systems.

Other scenarios posit other intelligence conundrums and proposes strategies to address the problems involved (on community relations, interrogation, data mining, etc.).

Confidentiality, Ethics Codes, and the Need for Government Informers

Of interest are those scenarios that touch on issues of how mental health professionals conduct their business, especially when it comes to issues of confidentiality.

Scenario 2a: ....A woman contacts her psychologist from whom she has been receiving therapy for the past year for bouts with depression. She reports that she has just learned that a friend of her 19-year-old son appears to be recruiting her son for a martyrdom mission. This friend has voiced some fundamental Islamic beliefs that are very anti-American. The woman has overheard worrisome conversations between her son and his friend but had tried to discount their significance until her son revealed today that he was asked to become a Martyr for an unspecified attack against the United States. He is very concerned that his friend is involved in something that may be planned for the near future. They are afraid to report this to the police because her son has a juvenile record and he is somewhat anti-American himself. They are naturalized citizens of the United States after having moved here from Iran many years ago.

The joint FBI/APA report purports that this situation described in this scenario "is not covered explicitly by the American Psychological Association's (APA's) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct." What does that code say?

5.05 Disclosures. (a) Psychologists disclose confidential information without the consent of the individual only as mandated by law, or where permitted by law for a valid purpose, such as (1) to provide needed professional services to the patient or the individual or organizational client, (2) to obtain appropriate professional consultations, (3) to protect the patient or client or others from harm, or (4) to obtain payment for services, in which instance disclosure is limited to the minimum that is necessary to achieve the purpose.

So, what is not clear here? There are no individuals here who are identified as being harmed. But, if the patient or her son are concerned about future developments, they can always go on their own to the police or FBI. Scenarios such as these are routinely discussed in ethics courses. Most state laws mandate a disclosure under Tarasoff rules, which state that "a psychotherapist has a duty to protect or warn a third party only if the therapist actually believed or predicted that the patient posed a serious risk of inflicting serious bodily injury upon a reasonably identifiable victim".

Quantico and the Recent Judicial Attacks on Confidentiality

In a recent development, in 2004 the California Appeals Court, in Ewing v Goldstein, expanded the Tarasoff rules in a way that may affect the discussion here. In this decision, the Appeals Court upheld a case, wherein "The court saw no difference between threats conveyed directly by the patient and those related by an immediate family member of the patient."

But, in all the years before this decision, the psychologist had no obligation to report the client's son's friend to anybody. Indeed, it would have been unethical, if not illegal, to do so! Robert Kinscherff, a forensic psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School wrote to Susan Brandon:

The law that permits or requires a psychologist to break confidentiality in order to protect third parties from potential violence is the closest body of law to the scenario. However, this law contemplates that it is the client/patient who poses the serious threat of harm to a third party; it does not contemplate violation of the confidentiality of the client/patient if the client/patient is not the source of the risk of harm.
There is no specific mention of national-security related issues in the Code, and I am unaware of any APA policy document or guidelines document that refers to national security issues as they might arise in the practice of psychology.
The Code as currently worded would actually permit breaking of confidentiality despite the patient's/client's wishes in the "national security risk from a third party" scenario BUT ONLY IF there were applicable state or federal law that MANDATED the breaking of confidentiality or PERMITTED the breaking of confidentiality in order to protect the client/patient or others (see, for example, 5.05(3) which permits disclosure to protect others if mandated or permitted by law).

Gee, too bad there is no such law.... Oops -- with the recent ruling, Ewing v Goldstein, now there is! As the Church Lady used to say, Isn't that precious?

But, seriously, is there any connection between the FBI/APA discussion in 2002 and the decisions made narrowing confidentiality laws for psychotherapists two years later? I don't know. But in the Quantico conference document, the FBI explicitly lays out its strategies on this:

Seek guidance from the American Psychological Association and state psychological associations to consider:

􀂃 Including statements regarding information related to national security in its code of ethics;

􀂃 Broadening training programs to include instruction on how to deal with such situations, and

􀂃 Teaching clinicians and clinical students how to become familiar with various law enforcement agencies and rules, and how to deal with third parties such as probation officers.

APA: Agents for the Government?
To make matters even more clear, the FBI tells the APA what it should be doing. And not only the APA, but teachers, the clergy, and anyone else who might be a source of solace, confession, and counseling in this country, making the latter into spies for the "war on terror":
There is a need for the American Psychological Association and state psychological associations to develop an ethical code for practitioners for instances where a client may have information relevant to terrorism (similar to other mandates that already exist, such as those for instances of abuse of children and the elderly and a client’s intention to harm himself or another person). Such instances are peculiar because they involve third-party harm. Psychologists need to be trained for what behaviors to look for, and how to report information to law enforcement while protecting the client and their family and community. This may include some kinds of cross-cultural training. The APA may have to work with legislatures and licensing boards regarding some of these issues. Similar training and issues of confidentiality need to be considered for the training of clergy, teachers, and physicians.
Even more amazing, given the joint FBI/APA nature of the report, is the FBI's "suggestion" to the APA:
It was suggested that the APA might develop guidelines for such reporting, and offer these to other agencies (school systems, social services), where appropriate.

HIPAA and National Security Disclosures
Then, a year or so after Quantico, the federal government implemented its new rules on privacy and medical information. The new privacy rule of the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), now effective law since April 2003, states:

Patients have the right to receive an accounting of disclosures of protected health information made by their providers in the six years prior to the date on which the accounting is requested, except for disclosures....

4. for national security or intelligence purposes

5. to correctional institutions or law inforcement officers

[emphasis in original]

I don't know when this language was put in, but it correlates perfectly with the intent of the authors of the Quantico document. In any case, the developments regarding patient confidentiality have eroded the latter significantly in the past ten years, and the leadership of the American Psychological Association, while giving lip service to protecting confidentiality, has been quick to chuck its scruples when anything regarding national security -- or big bucks to get in on the hogfeed that is national science funding -- is at stake.

My Main Point

When the APA published its own article on the conference in November 2003, it never mentioned the changes in confidentiality laws and ethics codes proposed by the FBI, neither opposing or supporting them. You would never know from reading the APA's account that such tremendous changes in standard ethical practice were being proposed, or that the APA was to take the lead in making these changes throughout the larger medical and social services field.

The silence of the APA on this issue is deafening. The leaders of the APA have fudged the question of use of psychologists in national security interrogations that hold "enemy combatants", and where torture has taken place. The leaders of the APA would allow use of psychologists in Army interrogations where use of isolation, sleep deprivation, and inducement of fear and debility take place (see my earlier article on the "new" Army field interrogation manual). The leaders of the APA would like to be seen as enthusiastic cheerleaders of the neocon war on terror, as handmaidens to the organization of state security, in the name of providing "knowledge". In the meantime, they would turn every psychologist, psychiatrist, doctor, counselor, clergyman and teacher into government informants and spies.

I invite members of the APA, especially from its hierarchy, to respond to this diary/article.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

New Report Warns "Afghanistan on the Brink"

Reuters has just posted a story that should make Americans stand up and take notice -- assuming they can bestir their self-interested torpor -- as the Senlis Council, a well-respected international think-tank, has released a report, "Stumbling into Chaos: Afghanistan on the Brink", which argues the situation in Afghanistan has reached "crisis proportions". This follows the revelations last month from a top British politician and former UN representative in the Balkans that the war in Afghanistan is "lost".

Canadian Television summed up the conclusions in the Senlis report this way (all emphases in quotes throughout are mine):

*** The Taliban are winning hearts and minds in southern Afghanistan; the international community is not. NATO-ISAF troops are forced to fight in an increasingly hostile environment because of the international community’s blunt political errors.
*** The absence of comprehensive development aid plans has given a strategic advantage to the Taliban.
*** Time for a well-planned village by village hearts and minds campaign to re-engage the Afghan population and make NATO’s mission a successful one.

What's that? A "hearts and minds" campaign to "re-engage" the population against the native opposition? Where have I heard that kind of language before?

Meanwhile, the Reuters article elaborates:

If NATO, the lead force operating in Afghanistan, is to have any impact against the insurgency, troop numbers will have to be doubled to at least 80,000, the report said.

Despite the alarms and the suggestions, the Taliban is likely to retake Kabul next year.

Senlis said its research had established that the Taliban, driven out of Afghanistan by the U.S. invasion in late 2001, had rebuilt a permanent presence in 54 percent of the country and was finding it easy to recruit new followers.

It was also increasingly using Iraq-style tactics, such as roadside and suicide bombs, to powerful effect, and had built a stable network of financial support, funding its operations with the proceeds from Afghanistan's booming opium trade.

"It is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when," the report said.

Putting it all together, we can see that like its neighbor to the east, Pakistan, Afghanistan is headed for greater turbulence and a higher amount of Western intervention -- although perhaps we should drop the polite language and call "intervention" by its real name: invasion.

The "hearts and minds" language, when combined with the call to double troop presence, points to plans for a large-scale military counterinsurgency campaign, as in Vietnam... or in Iraq. Such a campaign cannot really win popular support in the target country, as a prominent international humanitarian representative explains:

David Curtis, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Somalia, explains: “When military and humanitarian groups are doing similar work it is hard for people… to differentiate between them. Yet the objectives of the two are utterly dissimilar; humanitarian agencies aid the population without taking sides and based on need, while the US military serve their own political and military objectives alone. The two are incompatible.”

Why U.S./NATO Troops Must Withdraw from Afghanistan

The U.S. "war on terror" has always been a cover for imperialist maneuvering between Western nations, the drive to secure capital markets and natural resources, like gas and oil, and to beat out your opponents while doing it. For instance, despite their putative "alliance," the U.S., France, Germany, and the U.K. all have strong reasons to see the other nations of the group as competitors, particularly the U.S. and Germany.

The one thing that keeps them together is a lingering fear of Russia, and the political decision that the time has not yet come to split the alliance (as France almost did five years ago over Iraq). Well, I suppose there's also the profits, as a Daily Kos diarist noted the other day:

More than $20 billion in U.S. Government contracts for work in Iraq and Afghanistan has gone to "... foreign companies whose identities – at least so far – are impossible to determine, according to a new study from the Center for Public Integrity.

The sufferings of the Afghan people has been immense. The Taliban are a truly awful political organization, one which will enslave much of the population in barbaric medieval religious laws and institutions. But the U.S. and its allies are incapable of "liberating" this country, as the predatory Iraq War has made clear to all Muslims in the region.

Only the complete defeat of the political leadership in the U.S. and Europe, and the institution of a new one, dedicated to punishing the militarists, politicians and businessmen, particularly those responsible for the illegal intervention into Iraq and the use of torture throughout the region, will begin the massive repair job needed to truly win the "hearts and minds" of impoverished and oppressed people around the globe. Such an overturn in leadership and political policy will not be without its reflection within the countries undergoing such change, and there will be both pain and sacrifice, and a feeling of liberation and a future free of fear.

For now, 2008 looks to be a year of further defeats on the battlefield for Bush and the neo-cons, followed by strained attempts to ratchet up the military machinery in the most explosive corner of the world. It is not too late to throw out this rancid bunch, but I fear the current political opposition is too subservient, too inured to a sterile electoralist platform, and too afraid, frankly, of necessary change, because too indebted to the large corporations that feed off the military machine, to lead as it should.

The conclusion will be messy, but as always in history, unforgiving, especially for those candidates and politicians that cannot embrace impeachment and immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan -- Withdrawal from Afghanistan?? you cry. Yes. NATO cannot save the anti-fundamentalist opposition in Afghanistan. They are ensuring a Taliban victory. They are irrevocably tainted by war crimes and torture. If a truly domestic opposition is to form and beat the Taliban and the warlords -- and I strongly oppose both Taliban and the vicious warlords and obscurantist mullahs -- then the U.S. and its allies must pull out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hamlet, Act IV, Scene IV

                           What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, He that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused....

Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake.

How stand I then... while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain?

Monday, November 19, 2007

APA Critics Plumb New Gitmo Revelations

Once again, the indefatigable Stephen Soldz has jumped out on the Guantanamo SOP story, providing readers with important analysis on exactly what is in that document, and how it links to what we already know about U.S. torture policies. He also discusses the document in the light of the struggle he and other psychologists have waged in the American Psychological Association against the latter's collaborationist policy of staffing the interrogation rooms and prisons of Bush's anti-democratic and bloody "war on terror".

This is from his latest article, "Leaked Guantanamo Document Confirms Routine Use of Isolation as Psychological Torture", posted yesterday at ZNet.

The Guantanamo SOP now provides official documentation that, at the time of the Rumsfeld memo and despite its warnings regarding the techniques' potential illegality and physical and psychological dangers, isolation was routinely used by the Defense Department at Guantanamo on all new detainees. The Rumsfeld memo complements the SOP in that it documents the central role of "medical and psychological review," and, thus, medical and psychological personnel in the administration of this technique....

Of relevance to those of us struggling to change American Psychological Association policy on psychologist participation in interrogations, the APA included clauses in its 2007 resolution against torture that allows continued participation in the use of isolation [and sensory deprivation] in certain circumstances:

"This unequivocal condemnation includes, but is by no means limited to, an absolute prohibition for psychologists against... the following used for the purposes of eliciting information in an interrogation process: ... isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation and/or sleep deprivation used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm." (emphasis added)

The APA inclusion of this carefully-qualified language led many APA critics, as well as certain reporters to wonder will psychologists still abet torture? It is therefore essential that the APA clarify the meaning of these apparent "loopholes."

Recent attempts by the APA to address the meaning of these "loopholes" raise the possibility that APA leaders, reeling under the impact of massive protests among members and criticism in the press, are looking to resolve any ambiguities in the 2007 Resolution. But so far, the APA leadership have failed to make a clear, unequivocal statement that this use of isolation at Guantanamo is unethical.

As always, the entire article is must reading. Meanwhile, Scott Horton over at Harper's has covered much of the same territory, taking on the APA in vigorous, impassioned fashion in his article, "The Psychologists and Gitmo". Horton draws upon Soldz's work:

Of all the major professional organizations addressing the torture and prisoner abuse issue, one has an unbroken record of clear ethical evasion. It has adopted a new professional mantra, it seems: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Just a few days ago Major General Geoffrey Miller’s operations manual for Guantánamo was posted on the internet. It got a lot of attention because it contained provisions making clear that certain detainees were not to be identified to or permitted access to the Red Cross. That was, of course, a criminal act. And why was the Red Cross being kept away? The circumstances make the answer to that question readily apparent: they were being tortured, and the Bush Administration was extremely eager to conceal that fact as long as it could.

But this manual contains a number of less dramatic, but still extremely important disclosures. And among them is the use of isolation and sensory deprivation techniques as a means of “preparing” detainees. It’s been clear for some time that the CIA favors this over the truly “rough stuff.” And legal scholars and ethicists have also been clear that these practices may also constitute torture over sustained periods, and certainly constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Now psychologist Dr. Stephen Soldz has taken a close look at the manual, and applied it retroactively to the debate inside of the American Psychological Association. And it provides further information suggesting that the organization’s leadership, which is filled with individuals with unmistakable financial and business ties to the U.S. Government, has misled the membership in an effort to protect the Bush Administration and its torture practices.

Meanwhile, in the back alleys and byways of the Internet, in private emails and on listservs, the analysis of the Gitmo SOP continues. One astute observer -- a psychologist working with others to change APA policy -- noted in mailing that the SOP describes the use of marathon interrogations, while not allowing for use of towels, as they might cover the sensory bombardment of constant 24-hour-a-day light in prisoner cells.

There will be no limit as to the duration of the interrogation/interview. (10-2) (Pg. 58 of the SOP Manual)

Wikileaks reports that the Pentagon asked the site to censor the material a week after it was initially posted. Apparently, the ACLU had been trying unsuccessfully to obtain the document for some time. In posting this document, Wikileaks (and the anonymous whistleblower who provided this document) provided a real service for American democracy and open government. It remains to be seen how much this dart will serve to help bring down Bush's gulag and end the campaign of torture the military and clandestine services have engaged in for far too long.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Consequences of Gitmo SOP Leak: the Pentagon Replies

I can't access the Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures manual leaked the other day. It could be demand is so high it crashed the servers at Wikileaks. [Here's an alternate link.] I wanted to check more on what I'm hearing is in all those hundreds of pages, including the fact that the initial period of isolation of prisoners is four, not two weeks in length. Also, other reports are describing, for instance, the use of military dogs with prisoners to "enhance physical security and as a psychological deterrent". Both the ACLU and the Center for Human Rights are reported to have lawyers looking carefully at the document.

For those of use who have been protesting within the American Psychological Association (APA) about its policy of permitting psychologists to work in "war on terror" interrogation centers like Guantanamo, the Delta SOP is of more than passing interest. Colonel Larry James, who spoke against a moratorium resolution (banning psychologist participation in interrogations at places like Guantanamo) at the last APA conference, warning that without psychologists involved in the interrogation process "people are going to die" (meaning prisoners, I suppose; he wasn't clear), was Chief Psychologist with the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantanamo during the period the controversial SOP was in operation. The APA has defended Colonel James to the present day, and even put him forward as someone who helped blunt human rights abuses at the facility.

It's evident from the documentary material now that everything was not kosher (to say the least) at Guantanamo during James's stint. It will be interesting to see how APA spins this. This is especially so now as certain APA leaders have initiated a charm offensive with the internal opposition, making allowances on the torture issue that are supposed to placate the critics, even as they refuse to ban psychologist presence in a non-medical capacity at facilities that allow indefinite detention and other forms of human rights abuses. Meanwhile, none of the current crop of candidates for APA President are willing to endorse any change of direction on APA and the interrogations issue.

The military has also given its statement on the leak and the manual itself (military acronyms include JTF-GTMO, for Joint Task Force-Guantánamo and SOP for Standard Operating Procedures):

On 14 November 2007, JTF-GTMO became aware that, what appears to be a 2003 Camp Delta SOP, had been posted on the World Wide Web.

While the document was "Unclassified" it had been designated "For Official Use Only" and for many reasons (to include the safety and security of U.S. service members) was not intended for mass distribution.

It is important to understand that SOPs by definition, undergo periodic review and change as situations warrant. Detention operations at JTF-GTMO have evolved significantly since 2003, prompting many SOP changes.

Additionally, there have been three changes in Command leadership since 2003; [Army] Maj. Gen. [Jay] Hood, [Navy] Rear Adm. [Harry] Harris, and [Navy] Rear Adm. [Mark] Buzby.

As a general rule, for reasons of personnel safety and operational security, the U.S. military will not publicly discuss the specific contents of SOP's.

JTF-GTMO policy is clear -- we treat all detainees humanely.

The JTF operates safe, humane and professional detention operations for unlawful enemy combatants. These enemy combatants are dangerous men and are providing valuable information in preventing further terrorist attacksaround the world.

In essence, the military is saying, don't look at what we did or said, just believe us now: trust us.

But the amount of people who trust the military in these matters is growing smaller and smaller with each passing day.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gitmo SOP Manual Leaked

A never-before-seen military manual detailing the day-to-day operations of the U.S. military's Guantánamo Bay detention facility has been leaked to the web, affording a rare inside glimpse into the institution where the United States has imprisoned hundreds of suspected terrorists since 2002.

The 238-page document, "Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures," is dated March 28, 2003. [Here's an alternate link.] It is unclassified, but designated "For Official Use Only." It hit the web last Wednesday on

The Camp Delta document includes schematics of the camp, detailed checklists of what "comfort items" such as extra toilet paper can be given to detainees as rewards, six pages of instructions on how to process new detainees, instructions on how to psychologically manipulate prisoners, and rules for dealing with hunger strikes....

The Pentagon did not reply to a request for comment on the document.

One piece from the manual is already raising some eyebrows, as it documents that it was literally SOP (standard operating procedure) to hide detainees from visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who are the final word on documenting conditions in prisons, and are by law supposed to have access to all prisoners. Emphasis below in bold in mine:

17-4 Levels of Visitation
All detainees will have a level of ICRC contact designated for them. These different levels are as follows:
a. No Access: No contact of any kind with the ICRC. This includes the delivery of ICRC mail.
b. Restricted: ICRC is allowed to ask the detainee about health and welfare only. No prolonged questions.
c. Unrestricted: ICRC is allowed full access to talk to the detainee.
d. Visual: Access is restricted to visual inspection of the detainee's physical condition. No form of communication is permitted. No delivery of ICRC mail.

According to a report from Reuters, posted at Yahoo News:

...incoming prisoners are to be held in near-isolation for the first two weeks to foster dependence on interrogators and "enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process."

Styrofoam cups must be confiscated if prisoners have written on them, apparently because prisoners have used cups to pass notes to other captives. "If the cup is damaged or destroyed, the detainee will be disciplined for destruction of government property," the rules say. (emphasis mine)

The use of isolation techniques to foster dependency and induce mental disorganization is a hallmark of the CIA-Military developed torture paradigm of the 1950s-1960s, known by the acroynm DDD (dependency, debility, dread), which I've described in other articles.

It's one outrageous revelation after another, and still this sickening government and its meretricious, malignantly narcissitic and war-mongering leaders still stand in office. What a dark, dark era this is!

[Follow-up to this story at "Consequences of Gitmo Leak: the Pentagon Replies".]

Outrage! NATO Transfers Prisoners to Afghan Torture

The latest in a series of scandals around use of torture by the U.S. and its allies concerns yesterday's revelations by Amnesty International (AI) that Nato-led forces have turned prisoners captured in Afghanistan over to certain torture by that country's intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security (NDS). AI specifically named "members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – particularly those from Belgium, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands and Norway."

Today, the executive head of the ISAF troops in Afghanistan, German General Egon Ramms, has confirmed the AI reports, adding NATO had received such reports. Canadian forces had even stopped handing over prisoners in the Kandahar province unless their safety could be vouchsafed. But the spin doctors are already on duty, as Reuters is reporting that a NATO spokesman is denying any "systematic mistreatment or torture of detainees" handed over to Afghanistan authorites.

But Afghan President Hamid Karzai last week ordered authorities to stop torturing suspects in a tacit admission that the practice had been carried out.

Amnesty International's press release gets more specific (and, of course, the full report, "Detainees Transferred to Torture: ISAF Complicity?", even more so):

Over the past two years, Amnesty International has received repeated reports of torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of the NDS, including detainees being whipped, exposed to extreme cold and deprived of food. Many of them have been arrested arbitrarily and detained incommunicado, without access to lawyers and families.

AI dates concerns about detention practices in Afghanistan back to 2002. They cite "failures by all parties to the conflict", including both the U.S. and the Taliban, to meet international norms and obligations regarding prisoners and detention. From the full report:

The two international agreements on the future of Afghanistan - the Bonn Agreement and the Afghanistan Compact - include clear international human rights obligations. Thus the Bonn Agreement provides for the establishment of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission,(14) as well as providing, in Article V(2):

"The Interim Authority and the Emergency Loya Jirga shall act in accordance with basic principles and provisions contained in international instruments on human rights and international humanitarian law to which Afghanistan is a party"..."

The Afghanistan Compact lists "Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights" among the "three critical and interdependent areas or pillars of activity for the five years from the adoption of this Compact".(16) The Compact provides, among other things, that by 2010:

"Government security and law enforcement agencies will adopt corrective measures including codes of conduct and procedures aimed at preventing arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, extortion and illegal expropriation of property with a view to the elimination of these practices"...

International Cover-Up

Needless to say, this story has been met with deafening silence in the country that initiated "Operation Enduring Freedom". In Canada, there was a more circumspect response from some, with Michael Byers of the Toronto Star opining:

The world's most respected human rights organization has just accused this country of complicity in torture. Canadians should hang their heads in shame....

One alleged victim claimed to have been taken to a room in the NDS compound in Kandahar where "the walls were covered with blood." There, he was hung from a hook on the ceiling and repeatedly beaten into unconsciousness.

As Amnesty International explains, Canada's current reliance on occasional verification visits is misplaced. Monitoring "is a technique to detect torture only after it happens, and cannot substitute for prior precautions that prevent torture from happening in the first place."

The human rights organization also criticizes Canada for downplaying the number of transfers that occur. (emphasis mine)

But the press is one thing, and the State another, and Stephen Harper's Canadian government has announced that endorses NATO's official pronouncement that there is "no evidence" of any such mistreatment given transferred prisoners. [I've been made aware that blueness at Daily Kos wrote a diary on the controversy in Canada over this issue some months ago. It complements the material in this diary very well: "Torture? What Torture?"] Not to be outdone, the Dutch have also backed NATO's see-no-evil stance, and refuse, moreover, to stop handing prisoners over to the NDS until the situation is remedied, as AI is demanding. I guess someone should tell General Ramms to get with the program!

While all this denial can be chalked up to a knee-jerk defensive reaction, all the evidence points to a long-term cover-up. Reading the U.S. State Department's own Human Rights report on Afghanistan, one wonders who ever reads these things, unless you work for AI, Human Rights First, the UN, or some such agency. Certainly NATO personnel haven't read them (except that damn General Ramms). Here's a bit from the last such report, dated March 6, 2007:

In November 2005 Kabul's Police Chief General Abdul Jamil Junbesh, allegedly tortured and killed a civilian named Hussain. In December 2005 police beat and killed a detainee at the Kabul police station. In both cases human rights activists characterized official investigations as ineffective and no formal charges were made....

Complaints of serious human rights violations committed by representatives of national security institutions, including arbitrary arrest, unconfirmed reports of torture, and illegal detention were numerous.

There were allegations that local commanders operated private prisons where they abused individuals in detention, in some cases resulting in their death....

For example, human rights organizations reported that local authorities in Herat, Helmand, Badakhshan, and other locations continued to routinely torture and abuse detainees. Torture and abuse consisted of pulling out fingernails and toenails, burning with hot oil, beatings, sexual humiliation, and sodomy. (emphasis mine)

Not surprisingly, the role of the NDS is never mentioned, unless to place it in a positive light. Also not surprisingly, as a "media alert" by Human Rights First pointed out last March, the U.S. State Department report remains mum on "the detention and interrogation activities of the United States in the country". The U.S. is believed to hold hundreds if not thousands of individuals in uncertain legal status in unknown prisons and holding centers around Afghanistan.

The full AI report details how the ISAF coalition signed Memorandums of Understanding around the transfer of prisoners to the Afghanistan government. These MoUs are routinely have failed to guarantee the rights of transferred detainees. In many cases, it's not even certain to whom a prisoner will be turned over, although AI reports it's usually the NDS.

In practice, however, even the monitoring safeguards contained in such agreements are not met. The AIHRC (Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission) has indicated that it has often been denied access to detention centres run by the NDS, and lacks the resources and capacity to carry out extensive monitoring. An AIHRC Commissioner stated that "the AIHRC has monitored NDS detention centres, but we had to contact them in advance. It is not free access, although recently we received a letter signed by the head of NDS to provide access to AIHRC’s monitors, but this is not happening at the moment…in Kandahar, we have not [been] provided [with] full access and still we don’t feel confident about their full cooperation"...

AI is concerned that provisions in the MoUs governing monitoring are only implemented in part. More fundamentally, the organisation emphasises that - even where carried out by a professional, independent and dedicated organization - visits to places of detention, while constituting a crucial element in the prevention of torture and other ill-treatment, are far from being sufficient on their own. These concerns are reinforced by the experiences of the ICRC in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay – and indeed in relation to Bagram in Afghanistan, where torture and other ill-treatment were inflicted extensively despite ICRC’s regular visits, monitoring of reported abuse and relaying of concerns. (emphases mine)

A "Good" War Goes Rotten

The war in Afghanistan is often positively compared to the travesty of an occupation by the U.S. and its faux-coalition in Iraq. It's supposed to be the "good" war, fighting the Taliban, helping the Afghans, etc. But recent reports from top officials outside the U.S. are saying the war may already be lost. Well, now we can get some idea why. Just as Abu Ghraib belied the supposed U.S. good intentions in Iraq, a similar scandal surfaces in the war everybody is supposed to support. (Not one U.S. politician running for president is calling for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, as far as I can tell.)

One keeps thinking that the scandals around torture can't get any worse. Oh, sure, some of the pictures and videos from Abu Ghraib, showing the worst forms of rape and torture in that prison, have been suppressed. And, yes, the Democrats failed to even discipline their own members to prevent Congressional approval of a new Attorney General for Bush who knows how to read the script on legal double-talk when it comes to U.S. torture. But now the precious adventure in Afghanistan is shown to be an international travesty, with supposed liberal countries like Canada and the Netherlands, complicit in the rendition of detainees to a country that tortures. In this case, it's the same country they are supposedly fighting to protect.

How much tortured can the logic of support for this sick country and the existing international order can it get? When you recover from the vertiginous vertigo instilled by the latest revelation of crimes by this government and its allies, send a letter or email of protest to NATO, asking it to "1. Revise all detainee transfer policies and provide support to member states in the creation of minimum standards regarding detainee transfers for ISAF states operating in Afghanistan; and 2. Work with relevant partners including member states, the EU, UN, ICRC and AIHRC to develop a national plan for the Afghan prison system in line with UN Security Council resolution 1776."

NATO Headquarters
Blvd Leopold III
1110 Brussels, Belgium

And while you're at it, send a little loving AI's way. (And lest anyone think AI is unfair or one-sided in its coverage, read its April 2007 report, "All who are not friends, are enemies: Taliban abuses against civilians". I haven't bothered to cover it here, as coverage of Taliban atrocities are widely reported already in the mainstream press.)

PBS Documentary Exposes "Intelligent Design" Fraud

PBS has aired an important documentary in its NOVA series, "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial". The program, NOVA describes the controversy that emerged from the 2004 decision by the Dover, Pennsylvania school board indicating science teachers must tell their students that "intelligent design" was an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution (or natural selection). This led to a teacher revolt, and parent's filing a lawsuit alleging violation of the separation of church and state.

Featuring trial reenactments based on court transcripts and interviews with key participants, including expert scientists and Dover parents, teachers, and town officials, "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" follows the celebrated federal case of Kitzmiller v. Dover School District. This two-hour special was coproduced with Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Productions, Inc....

"There was a blow-up like you couldn't believe," Bill Buckingham, head of the school board's curriculum committee, tells NOVA. Buckingham helped formulate the intelligent-design policy when he noticed that the biology textbook chosen by teachers for classroom use was, in his words, "laced with Darwinism."

NOVA presents the arguments by lawyers and expert witnesses in riveting detail and provides an eye-opening crash course on questions such as "What is evolution?" and "Is intelligent design a scientifically valid alternative?" Kitzmiller v. Dover was the first legal test of intelligent design as a scientific theory, with the plaintiffs arguing that it is a thinly veiled form of creationism, the view that a literal interpretation of the Bible accounts for all observed facts about nature....

During the trial, lawyers for the plaintiffs showed that evolution is one of the best-tested and most thoroughly confirmed theories in the history of science, and that its unresolved questions are normal research problems—the type that arise in any flourishing scientific field.

U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III ultimately decided for the plaintiffs, writing in his decision that intelligent design "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents." As part of his decision, Judge Jones ordered the Dover school board to pay legal fees and damages, which were eventually set at $1 million.

"Judgment Day captures on film a landmark court case with a powerful scientific message at its core," says Paula Apsell, NOVA's Senior Executive Producer. "Evolution is one of the most essential yet, for many people, least understood of all scientific theories, the foundation of biological science. We felt it was important for NOVA to do this program to heighten the public understanding of what constitutes science and what does not, and therefore, what is acceptable for inclusion in the science curriculum in our public schools."

The NOVA website should be visited, not just to check your local broadcast times (though do that, too!), but because it also has a lot of interactive features related to the documentary, including audio of the judge and various scientific experts, an interview with Philip Johnson (the "father of intelligent design"), and an interactive documentary on Darwin's theories. (And a tip of the hat to U.J. for forwarding me information about the show.)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Right-Wing Evangelicals Target U.S. Military

Troutfishing has a very good article over at Daily Kos on the near-takeover by right-wing Christian evangelicals of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Religious ideology and imagery has long mingled with military rhetoric, as my article yesterday on General Matthew Ridgway and the Korean War demonstrates. But as recent investigations make clear, there is an organizational effort to maximize religious influence in the U.S. military, something beyond the chiliastic comments of a 1950s Cold War general.

In a July 12, 2005 interview with the New York Times, Brig. Gen. Cecil Richardson, Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, stated, "...we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched." For over a decade, the official [US Air Force] academy newspaper ran ads stating: "We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the World. If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us! There is salvation in no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." The ads were signed by 16 department heads, nine permanent professors, both the incoming and outgoing deans of faculty, the athletic director and more than 200 academy senior officers and their spouses.

[from an article published on Truthdig, The Cancer From Within, by Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) board member and decorated Vietnam War pilot David Antoon]

U.S. Air Force Academy Chaplain, Captain Melinda Morton, who was removed from her post for complaining about Christian proselytizing among recruits, explained what happened to her when she complained about undue influence at the Academy by evangelicals in a Washington Post article:

"They fired me," said Capt. Melinda Morton, a Lutheran minister who was removed as executive officer of the chaplain unit on May 4. "They said I should be angry about these outside groups who reported on the strident evangelicalism at the academy. The problem is, I agreed with those reports"....

"The evangelicals want to subvert the system," Morton said. "They have a very clear social and political agenda. The evangelical tone is pervasive at the academy, and it's aimed at converting these young people who are under intense pressure anyway."

In his Daily Kos piece, Troutfishing summed up the situation:

In short, US Basic training facilities of the United States military are being co-opted, by fundamentalist organizations, such as Campus Crusade For Christ, to indoctrinate military personnel and basic training recruits in a form of Christianity that is almost certainly heavily politicized, if quietly so.

This should concern all Americans; as I've recently described, the Founder Of Campus Crusade For Christ rejected the Theory Of Evolution (and even co-authored a book in "Intelligent Design" and held that American public education had been co-opted as part of a vast "anti-God" conspiracy that went back to the Renaissance and included communist and socialist ideology, atheism, and the ACLU.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation released a report last October 31 on Government Paid Missionaries for Christ. The report details the activities of the Military Ministry of the Campus Crusade for Christ, which reportedly seeks to "Evangelise and Disciple All Enlisted Members of the U.S. Military":

Describing their ministries at Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston, the Military Ministry website states:

"Responsibilities include working with Chaplains and Military personnel to bring lost soldiers closer to Christ, build them in their faith and send them out into the world as GOVERNMENT PAID MISSIONARIES."
I looked, and couldn't find this quote at the website itself, though I have no reason to doubt MRFF's truthfulness. Here's a few quotes from that were there when I looked today:

Picture yourself as a new recruit in Basic Training, or in Advanced Training, or in a Senior Service School for further training. What are your needs? Basic Training and Advanced Training are tough, rigorous, demanding experiences. You’ll come out of it knowing you can be and do much more than you ever dreamed. You’ll be ready for more than you ever imagined. But what about spiritual readiness–will you gain that, too?

Spiritual readiness means having the inner resources to face all that life has to throw at you, and even all that death could throw at you besides. It means being connected with the God of the universe in such a way that you know, whatever happens, you are ready.

Military Ministry has staff at many of the basic and advanced training locations in the Armed Forces, and we want to help you be ready.]

For more on this right wing group, go look at their video online, "Global War on Terror, Winning the Long War", with Bob Dees, U.S. Major General, Retired, and Executive Director of Military Ministry. Notably, Dees was, up until a few years ago, Executive Director of Defense Strategies at Microsoft Corporation.

The blog, The Blue Voice, reviews the video, explaining:

[Dees] presents a highly ideological version of the "global war on terror" with generous snippets from some FOX News propaganda film. It's very clear in this talk that Dees' right wing view of the "war on terror" as a religious war against Islam is an integral part of his version of the Christian message. It's a highly, explicitly political message, political as in a very narrow, conservative ideological view of foreign and military policy.

Dees says, "These troops that are gathering before a patrol in Baghdad, they're not worried about being politically correct, they are worried about being God-correct." And, "Our mission is to transform the nations of the world through the militaries of the world starting with the United States armed forces."

I encourage all my readers to pursue in some detail the links herein. The mixture of apocalyptic religious evangelism and militarist imperialism, both in the hands of a government that has thousands of nuclear weapons, constitutes a force that threatens the entire planet.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

U.S. General: Survive with God, or perish "in a Godless world"

In January 1951, General Matthew Ridgway was appointed the new commander for the Eighth Army in Korea. U.S. forces had suffered setback after setback after a Chinese and North Korean offensive drove U.S. and UN forces back from nearby the Yalu River and well south of the 38th parallel into South Korea. Only months before, General Douglas MacArthur had promised that the troops would be home by Christmas. But by December 4, 1950, things had gotten so bad the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved President Truman's decision to use atomic weapons, if necessary, to avoid possible defeat.

General Ridgway, who ultimately would take over from MacArthur, was a World War II hero, and considered something of a character. When in public, "he always had a hand grenade attached to one shoulder strap on his battle jacket, and a first aid kit on the other." The strange regalia earned him the nickname "Old Iron Tits".

The Chinese/North Korean rout of U.S. forces was one of the greatest battlefield defeats in U.S. history. Thousands died, many thousands more were wounded and taken prisoner. Ridgway saw it as his duty to restore morale and discipline among troops. He issued the following memorandum, asking "why are we here... what are we fighting for?", which I offer in full here as a historical document. The attentive reader will see some interesting parallels between Ridgway's Christian apocalyptic tone and the rhetoric and policies of the current U.S. political-military leadership.

In his recent book, The Coldest Winter, the late David Halberstam describes how Ridgway, upon hearing that North Korean troops had crossed the thirty-eighth parallel,

he immediately wondered whether, in his words, it represented "the beginning of World War III... Armageddon, the last great battle between East and West." (p. 488)

Some readers may think that the "war on terror" and the war against communist Korean and Chinese forces bear little similarity. I have neither the time nor inclination to answer such critics. I think it is clear that the military and political leadership of this country are using "Terror" as they did "Communism" in the middle of the 20th century, to justify the use of new weaponry, indiscriminate bombing and endless war, to slaughter hundreds of thousands, and destroy other countries in the specious cause of saving the "homeland".

It is enough to note that this memorandum is rarely mentioned in current histories of the Korean War. Not surprisingly, it is not referenced in the Wikipedia article on Ridgway, which states:

When Ridgway took command, the army was still in a tactical retreat, after a strong foray into North Korea had been met with an unexpected and overwhelming Communist Chinese advance. Ridgway's success in turning Eighth Army’s morale around, using little more than a magnetic personality and bold leadership, is still a model for the Army for how the power of leadership can dramatically change a situation.

Ridgway's offensive extended the war for another two years, even as there were repeated pleas for an armistice from the numerically far more powerful Chinese and North Koreans. In the end, the war produced a stalemate militarily that persists to this day. The price?

The Korean War finally ended in July 1953. Left in its wake were four million military and civilian casualties, including 33,600 American, 16,000 UN allied, 415,000 South Korean, and 520,000 North Korean dead. There were also an estimated 900,000 Chinese casualties. Half of Korea's industry was destroyed and a third of all homes. The disruption of civilian life was almost complete.

Quoted from Military History Network:


Office of the Commanding General
21 January 1951

MEMORANDUM FOR: Corps, Division, Separate Brigade or RCT Commanders, and Commanding General, 2d Logistical Command

SUBJECT: Why We Are Here

1. In my brief period of command duty here I have heard from several sources, chiefly from the members of combat units, the questions, "Why are we here?" "What are we fighting for?"

2. What follows represents my answers to these questions.

3. The answer to the first question, "Why are we here?" is simple and conclusive. We are here because of the decisions of the properly constituted authorities of our respective governments. As the Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur said publicly yesterday: "This command intends to maintain a military position in Korea just as long as the Statesmen of the United Nations decide we should do so." The answer is simple because further comment is unnecessary. It is conclusive because the loyalty we give, and expect, precludes any slightest questioning of these orders.

4. The second question is of much greater significance, and every member of this command is entitled to a full and reasoned answer. Mine follows.

5. To me the issues are clear. It is not a question of this or that Korean town or village. Real estate is, here, incidental. It is not restricted to the issue of freedom for our South Korean Allies, whose fidelity and valor under the severest stresses of battle we recognize; though that freedom is a symbol of the wider issues, and included among them.

6. The real issues are whether the power of Western civilization, as God has permitted it to flower in our beloved lands, shall defy and defeat Communism; whether the rule of men who shoot their prisoners, enslave their citizens, and deride the dignity of man, shall displace the rule of those to whom the individual and his individual rights are sacred; whether we are to survive with God's hand to guide and lead us, or to perish in the dead existence of a Godless world.

7. If these be true, and to me they are, beyond any possibility of challenge, then this has long ceased to be a fight for our Korean Allies alone and for their national survival. It has become, and it continues to be, a fight for our own freedom, for our own survival, in an honorable, independent national existence.

8. The sacrifices we have made, and those which we shall yet support, are not offered vicariously for others, but in our own direct defense.

9. In the final analysis, the issue now joined right here in Korea is whether Communism or individual freedom shall prevail, and, make no mistake, whether the next flight of fear-driven people we have just witnessed across the HAN, and continue to witness in other areas, shall be checked and defeated overseas or permitted, step by step, to close in on our own homeland and at some future time, however distant, to engulf our own loved ones in all its misery and dispair[sic].

10. These are the things for which we fight. Never have members of any military command had a greater challenge than we, or a finer opportunity to show ourselves and our people at their best -- and thus be an honor to the profession of arms, and a credit to those who bred us.

11. I would like each commander to whom this is addressed, in his own chosen ways of leadership, to convey the foregoing to every single member of his command at the earliest practicable moment.

M. B. Ridgway
Lieutenant General, United States Army

Link to typescript

Time Magazine, 2/5/1951, excerpts

Search for Info/News on Torture

Google Custom Search
Add to Google ">View blog reactions

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