Friday, August 29, 2008

APA Referendum Backers Answer Critics

Supporters of a referendum within the American Psychological Association, which seeks to prohibit psychologist participation at "war on terror" prison sites like Guantanamo, Baghram, and an untold number of secret CIA prisons throughout the world, are heading into the last weeks of the mail-in election.

Referendum opponents have repeatedly either misunderstood or deliberately tried to muddy the waters on the main issue, which concerns the active collaboration of U.S. military psychologists in torture and other abusive procedures. These opponents contend that the anti-torture referendum contains language that would endanger psychologist participation in an number of professional and forensic settings domestically, both in prisons, and in situations that have little to do with police or penal activities.

The backers of the referendum have released yet another FAQ aimed at clearing up the issues. I especially like that it addresses the special position of psychologists in the military interrogation situation. A number of my colleagues have been trying to get me to write more about how the language of the Bybee-Yoo memos uses psychologists to legitimize the operations of the "enemy combatant" prisons.

Reproduced below is the text of this latest FAQ:
Q. Why have you chosen to focus on settings rather than individual actions?

A: We have four main reasons for doing so:

1. Psychologists know from decades of research that good people do bad things in bad situations (cf. Ross and Nisbett, 1991, Zimbardo, 2007). Psychologists subject to the chain of command in an inherently abusive environment (e.g., the CIA black sites and Guantanamo Bay) are no less vulnerable to "drift" than anyone else; it is time to start applying the hard-learned lessons of psychology to psychologists.

2. The presence of psychologists legitimizes the operations of these facilities. This is because the Bush administration has redefined torture in a way that all but guarantees that psychologists will play a role in any given torture session. To understand why one needs to explore the labyrinths of this administration’s legal defense of torture.

Most psychologists have heard of the infamous Yoo-Bybee legal memos that redefined torture so that only pain equivalent to that experienced during "death, organ failure or the permanent impairment of a significant body function" could be considered torture, but fewer psychologists know that the same memos incorporate psychologists into this administration's legal defense of torture.

Yoo argues that torture can only take place if the perpetrator intends to cause prolonged mental harm:

"If a defendant has a good faith belief that his actions will not result in prolonged mental harm, he lacks the mental state necessary for his actions to constitute torture. A defendant could show that he acted in good faith by taking such steps as surveying professional literature, consulting with experts, or reviewing evidence gained from past experience."

Thus, by consulting with a psychologist an interrogator demonstrates that his or her intent is to extract information and not to cause harm; if the interrogator is a psychologist he or she can demonstrate good intent by reviewing the literature before an interrogation. Of course members of other professions -- say sociology -- could also perform this same role but there is an advantage in using clinical psychologists since Yoo argues that one has only suffered 'prolonged mental harm' if the victim suffers from PTSD or (untreated) depression and psychologists can diagnose these disorders while other social scientists cannot:

"the development of a mental disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, which can last months or even years, or even chronic depression, which also can last for a considerable period of time if untreated, might satisfy the prolonged harm requirement"

Psychologists hold the keys to these abusive settings because the clandestine services need psychologists to tell them that they are not torturing. As Alexander Leighton once said: "the administrator uses social science the way a drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination."

3. We find these settings inherently offensive. Even without evidence of torture, we would object to the participation of psychologists in a system that buys people from mercenaries, ships them off to secret locations and holds them there for an indefinite period of time.

4. Although the accounts of prisoners who have been released and information emerging from military tribunals are beginning to provide first hand accounts about the treatment in Guantanamo Bay, we do not know what actions are being performed in the CIA black sites. These settings are – by their very nature – closed to scrutiny. What little we do know comes from heavily redacted documents released through the freedom of information act requests and a handful of leaked documents. We do know that abuse has taken place, we do know that psychologists have contributed to this abuse and we do know that those have who operate these facilities have resisted calls to allow a full, independent investigation. Obviously, this is not a sound basis for oversight.
While the end of voting is period is at the conclusion of the business day, September 15. It is not known when the results of the referendum will be known. Nor can anyone say with any certainty what those results will mean, or what will happen within APA after those results are made public. All I can say is to interested parties at this point is, if you are a member of APA, don't forget to vote YES on the referendum and get your vote back in before the deadline.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sign Petition to Help Guantanamo "Child Prisoner" Mohammed Jawad

Last week I publicized the extraordinary appeal campaign for Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad initiated by his military attorneys. Jawad, who was arrested as a teenager in Afghanistan in December 2002, is the first child soldier to be tried as a "war criminal" in modern times. In U.S. custody, he has suffered beatings, threats, physical isolation, sleep deprivation, been subjected to 24-hour bright lights, and more. His attorneys have called for letters to be written to the Convening Authority at Guanatanamo, asking them to withdraw and dismiss the charges against Jawad.

Now, his attorneys have initiated an online petition campaign in his behalf. You can follow this link to go straight to the petition. Please sign it and pass the info on to whomever you can.

The latest news in the Jawad case is that Susan Crawford, the Convening Authority for the Military Tribunals at Guantanamo, has denied Major David Frakt's request for a face-to-face meeting with the defense. It is more important now then ever that we let the powers that be at Guantanamo and in the Pentagon know that we condemn this miscarriage of justice.

From the petition's appeal:
Mohammad Jawad is one of two juveniles captured in the war in Afghanistan to face charges before military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mohammad Jawad is charged with attempted murder stemming from a hand-grenade attack forces in Kabul, Afghanistan on December 17, 2002 in which two U.S. special forces soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were injured. Charges were referred to trial by the Convening Authority (the senior official in the military commissions) in January 2008. Since that time, significant new evidence has come to light casting doubt on Mr. Jawad's involvement in the attack. Additionally, significant evidence has come to light about the torture and abuse Mr. Jawad has suffered during his detention at Bagram Prison and Guantanamo Bay over the last 5 years and 8 months.

The charges against Mr. Jawad are unsupported under international law. Charging a child soldier with war crimes is unprecedented in modern history. The military judge has ordered the Convening Authority to reconsider her decision to refer the charges to trial and has afforded the defense an opportunity to submit written matters to the Convening Authority for her consideration. This petition drive and an associated letter-writing campaign are part of the defense efforts to persuade the Convening Authority to drop the charges. Thank you for your support.
The good folks at have posted a sample letter with talking points on the case. Did you know, for instance...
Significant doubt exists about Mohammad Jawad’s role in the grenade attack of December 17, 2007:
· Afghan Interior Minister Taj Wardak publicly stated in a press conference on December 18, 2008 that three men were arrested, one teenager and two adults, in connection with the attack, and all three men had confessed their role. Only one hand grenade was thrown.

· Contemporaneous press accounts and military incident reports all indicate there were multiple perpetrators involved in the attack, and that more than one person was arrested.

· The adult perpetrators of the attack are not in U.S. custody and have not been brought to justice for their role in the attack.

· According to Mohammad Jawad, he was forcibly drugged for weeks prior to the attack including on the day of the attack. Several officials involved in interrogating Mohammad Jawad after the attack, both Afghani and American, observed that he appeared to be under the influence of drugs or going through withdrawal from drugs.

· The case against Mohammad Jawad relies almost entirely on a “confession” purportedly taken from Mohammad Jawad by Afghan authorities on December 17, 2002. According to Mohammad Jawad, he was subjected to both physical abuse and coerced by threats while in Afghan police custody. The confession itself was not written by Mohammad Jawad, who was functionally illiterate, and bears only his thumbprint. The confession is not even written in Mohammad Jawad’s native language of Pashto. Virtually all of the independently verifiable facts in the so-called confession are demonstrably false....

· Mohammad Jawad has been interrogated approximately 36 times at Guantanamo. In all of these interrogation sessions, he has never admitted throwing the hand grenade and has affirmatively and adamantly denied it, despite the use of illegal “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Mohammad Jawad, the same techniques which have broken hardened terrorists. Some of the interrogators and even the Combatant Status Review Tribunal have expressed doubt as to whether he threw the hand grenade.

· Mohammad Jawad is the only person charged under the MCA who is not even alleged to have any affiliation with al Qaida or the Taliban.

· No one died in the attack allegedly perpetrated by Mohammad Jawad. The injuries sustained by the two Special Forces soldiers in the attack, while painful, were not life-threatening. Both soldiers have been fully rehabilitated. One is back on active duty with the military and the other is a police officer in California. The Afghan interpreter received a humanitarian visa to the United States and has resettled permanently in Virginia.

· Significant doubt exists over whether the commission has jurisdiction over the alleged offense of Mohammad Jawad. Hand grenades are lawful weapons and uniformed soldiers in a combat zone are lawful military targets. Mohammad Jawad’s alleged actions are not a violation of the law of war. Even if we assume that he did throw the hand grenade, and was able to form the specific intent to kill the U.S. soldiers, this constitutes the domestic crime of attempted murder, it does not constitute the offense of attempted murder in violation of the law of war.
Mohammed Jawad is a human being -- on the battlefield, a mere teenager kidnapped and forced to fight for an Afghan militia. He has suffered tremendously. You can do something about it. It only takes a minute to sign a petition. You'll rarely have a chance to make so much difference with one minute of your time. Hopefully, you'll be inspired to email the petition link or this article to someone else.

A young man's life, swept up in the chaos and drama of a conflict half a world away, a man who is no terrorist or killer, stands in the balance. On the other side stands the Bush Administration's jerry-rigged, unfair military tribunal system, and its gulag of prisons, adept in the administration of psychological torture, built to extend the dictatorial reach of the President of the United States over every spot in the world.

Drop the charges and release Mohammed Jawad. Close down Guantanamo and the CIA secret prison system. Stop the torture and abuse of detainees.

Monday, August 25, 2008

McCain, POWs, & the Stab in the Back

I have never been tortured. But I have worked clinically with those who have, including U.S. POWs. I can tell you it breaks the mind and the body, the soul and the spirit, in a way that can never be forgotten.

Now John McCain cites his experience as a POW and torture victim as an anodyne to every mildly injurious political attack. While his painful experience as a POW matters in the history of the man, in our nation's history, what matters now is that McCain has betrayed that experience, and the lives of thousands he could both know and not know. In doing so, he also betrayed the ideals of American fair-play and justice, going back to George Washington (who forbid his revolutionary army to engage in torture, even if the British did). As everyone should know, those ideals were not realized fully, and we are still fighting for them today. But McCain has trampled them in the mud.

This is about how John McCain, a victim of years of incarceration and of torture during the Vietnam War, helped pass the Military Commissions Act, working to leave prisoners, including prisoners he knew were innocent, in solitary confinement as "enemy combatants", and subjected to CIA torture, which was the diabolical program of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Only a few months ago, one could find McCain railing against a Supreme Court decision that gave Guantanamo detainees the right to challenge their detention in a U.S. court. For McCain, who languished for years in prison, it is okay if America's prisoners rot in jail forever.

McCain betrayed the rights of prisoners established by the Geneva conventions, maybe rights he did not enjoy fully as a POW himself, so all the more awful when he betrayed them and turned captives of American military power into long-term prisoners and victims of torture.

One can honor the suffering of an individual, any individual, for no man is an island, and every person's suffering diminishes me. Therefore, one can honor John McCain's suffering and the hell he endured -- as we would any human being who experienced what he did.

But no one can honor the machinations of a shameless politician who prostitutes his own suffering, turns the moral lessons of his own torture on its head, and sells out all those who would endure what he endured... for the modern equivalent of thirty pieces of silver -- electoral office.

McCain stabbed his fellow POWs in the back. This isn't about whether he confessed under torture, or whether he funded veterans issues, or not. This is about how he took the lessons it was his sad destiny to suffer, and turned them into their opposite.

In pushing and voting for the MCA, with its provisions against habeas corpus, and its endorsement of so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, McCain has committed a great moral sin. He has done this in the name of pride and power.

His defeat, his fall should be a lesson to all who would cynically pander their own hard suffering, and abandon those brothers and sisters in pain and loss, his fellow prisoners, captured in war or during civil conflict, held captive in nation after nation, by guerrilla or terrorist group, by the West or the East, by believer or infidel, prisoners both male and female, of all religions, creeds, and nationalities.

In the end it all comes down to this. When all eyes were upon him, McCain supported torture. And in doing so, he stabbed all prisoners in the back.

Also posted at Daily Kos

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"The Mat-Maker"

I was the attendant or page of Queequeg, while busy at the mat. As I kept passing and repassing the filling or woof of marline between the long yarns of the warp, using my own hand for the shuttle, and as Queequeg, standing sideways, ever and anon slid his heavy oaken sword between the threads, and idly looking off upon the water, carelessly and unthinkingly drove home every yarn; I say so strange a dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by the intermitting dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg's impulsive, indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly, or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference in the concluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric; this savage's sword, thought I, which thus finally shapes and fashions both warp and woof; this easy, indifferent sword must be chance -- aye, chance, free will, and necessity -- no wise incompatible -- all interweavingly working together. The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course -- its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, though restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events.
From Chapter 46, Moby Dick, or The Whale, by Herman Melville

Poisoning the Asylum Well

Charlie Savage has an article in today's New York Times focusing on the politicization of the civil service process that selects the nation's immigration judges. The use of a political litmus test for the conservatism of Department of Justice applicants surfaced last summer in
... two scathing reports confirming that for several years administration officials illegally took political affiliation into account when hiring recent law school graduates, summer associates, some assistant prosecutors and immigration judges.
The culprits in this twisted, and illegal, vetting process were the assistant to the Attorney General, Kyle Sampson, and two former White House flunkies, Monica Goodling and Jan Williams. The story about the disparities in adjudication of asylum cases surfaced in a Stanford Law Review report last Spring (which I covered at the time.)

The latest revelations from the DoJ reviews amplify the conclusions re the bias and unfairness of the nation's immigration courts, as revealed in the Stanford study earlier this year.

According to Savage:
When vetting applicants... Ms. Goodling asked them questions about their political beliefs and researched their campaign contributions. She also conducted Internet searches of their names and words like “asylum,” “immigrant” and “border,” as well as partisan terms, like abortion, Iraq, gay and the names of political figures, to determine their views, the report said.
No evidence of a deliberate attempt to limit asylum claims has surfaced. But a statistical analysis of the results of the new Bush appointees asylum decisions found a significant discrepancy between the judgments of the "vetted" Bush Administration post-2004 appointees and the rest of the immigration judges or hearing examiners in the system. (The statistics were not gathered by DoJ, but by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.)
Of the 31 politically selected judges, 16 compiled enough of a record to allow statistical analysis. Nine rejected applicants at a significantly higher rate than other local colleagues, while three were more lenient....

And when asylum denial rates of all judges across the nation were ranked in comparison to their local peers, 8 of the 16 scored above the 70th percentile — meaning they have been among the judges least likely to grant asylum.

Together, these 16 judges handled 5,031 cases and had a combined denial rate of 66.3 percent — 6.6 percentage points greater than their collective peers. This translates into an extra 157 asylum cases that resulted in denial. [Emphasis added]
What happens when an asylum case is rejected? Some are appealed, of which a small percentage are referred back to the original court for retrial. But a majority of individuals are deported back to their countries, which they originally left because of political or national persecution, often because they were imprisoned, tortured or threatened with death.

How many of these 157 extra denials resulted in torture or death of the individuals involved? We cannot know, but given the state of world governance and the prevalence of torture in many countries, the answer must be that the result of some this political vetting has been imprisonment, renewed torture, or hideous death.

The NYT article notes that unfairness is rife throughout the asylum-immigration system, and different standards and approval rates by judges throughout the system is a scandal still left unaddressed.

Asylum seekers are an easy target for right-wing politicians, and other opportunistic politicos, both Democratic and Republican, who seek to scapegoat these defenseless victims for the difficulties and pressures of the immigration problems in the U.S. as a whole. Americans don't realize how difficult it is to get asylum in the United States. Grant rates for male applicants are only 37.3%, and are often made only after voluminous perusal of mountains of evidence, usually involving hundreds of pages of evidence, submitted by the applicant (who is often severely stressed, if not depressed, or suffering from PTSD from torture or war-related conflict).

Congress must address reform of the asylum immigration system as a matter of basic human rights. Systemic effects of the unfair system are also burdening the federal judicial system as a whole, as appeals courts are flooded by applicants, denied a fair hearing, or victimized by judicial rulings that are unprofessional, biased, or inept. As one reporter described it:
Federal judges have been among the harshest critics of immigration judges. For example, last year the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals delivered another in a series of stinging rebukes to the immigration courts and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). It ordered a review of a case of a Lebanese who was denied asylum despite fear that he would be persecuted if forced to return to his home country. The Appeals Court called for the DOJ to allocate more resources to ensure that immigrants receive fair review of their cases.
Responsible plans for basic reform are on the record. But only when the public at large begins to make itself heard on this issue will politicians finally discover the "will" to make change happen.

Last June, I wrote:
Immigration has been the issue most beloved of demagogues, appealing as it does to nativism, fears of unemployment and jingoistic campaigns for buying only domestic products ("put the foreign workers out of work!"). The Democratic Party, backed by the parochial and conservative trade union bureaucracy, has often bought into the protectionist scam, which pits U.S. workers against their brothers and sisters around the world. And the worst victims have been, of course, the most powerless -- the men, women, and children fleeing for their lives to the U.S., asking for political asylum. As the studies reported above show, the United States has long since ceased standing for justice and fairness.

We must demand that political litmus tests for immigration judges be stopped, and their proponents fined and jailed.... the Immigration Appeals Board must be reconstituted and strengthened, and judges in the immigration courts (now run by the Department of Homeland Security) monitored and held accountable for discriminatory practices.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Gitmo Attorneys Extraordinary Appeal to Help Mohammad Jawad

Defense attorneys for Mohammad Jawad, currently on trial in Bush's crooked military tribunal system at Guantanamo, are asking for a letter campaign by the public on Jawad's behalf. Jawad is the first child soldier to be tried as a "war criminal" in modern times. In U.S. custody, he has suffered beatings, threats, physical isolation, sleep deprivation, subjected to 24-hour bright lights, and more.

Jawad is charged with, at the age of 16 or 17, having supposedly been involved in a grenade attack against U.S. forces in December 2002. But his attorneys say he is "a homeless teenager who was drugged and forced to fight with Afghan militia, then abused by the United States, which transported him halfway around the world and imprisoned him at Guantánamo for five years without charge and is now using him as a guinea pig to test a new system of military justice with no regard to his initial status as a juvenile."

There are many reasons to disbelieve the U.S. case against the now-23-year-old Guantanamo defendant. For one thing:
The case against Mohammad Jawad relies almost entirely on a “confession” purportedly taken from Mohammad Jawad by Afghan authorities on December 17, 2002. According to Mohammad Jawad, he was subjected to both physical abuse and coerced by threats while in Afghan police custody. The confession itself was not written by Mohammad Jawad, who was functionally illiterate, and bears only his thumbprint. The confession is not even written in Mohammad Jawad’s native language of Pashto. Virtually all of the independently verifiable facts in the so-called confession are demonstrably false.
Jawad has been interrogated over 35 times at Guantanamo, but has never admitted he threw any grenade, and both interrogators and some members of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal have expressed some doubt as to his guilt. Amnesty International has written a large report on the Jawal case, From ill-treatment to unfair trial - The case of Mohammed Jawad, child ‘enemy combatant’, which looks at his ill-treatment at the hands of U.S. authorities, who "deliberately blurred the detention and interrogation functions thereby undermining a fundamental safeguard against torture and other ill-treatment."

I heartily support Mr. Jawad's attorneys solicitation of support. Here is their letter (emphasis in original):


An Opportunity to Help Mohammad Jawad - Guantanamo's Child

TO: Friends of Mohammad Jawad and Supporters of Justice, Fairness and the Rule of Law

FROM: Major David Frakt, Defense Counsel Lieutenant Commander
Katharine Doxakis, Assistant Defense Counsel

Request for Support – Letter Writing Campaign

On 14 August, Military Commissions Judge Colonel Stephen Henley issued a ruling in the case of U.S. v. Mohammad Jawad. In his ruling, he found that the pretrial advice prepared by Brigadier General Thomas Hartman, the Legal Advisor to the Convening Authority, was inadequate and misleading in that it failed to advise the Convening Authority of matters in extenuation and mitigation raised by the defense. The judge found that the Legal Advisor’s actions had “compromised the objectivity necessary to fairly and dispassionately evaluate the evidence.” The judge ordered the Convening Authority, Ms. Susan Crawford (former Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces), to reconsider her decision to refer the charges against Mohammad Jawad for trial. The judge ordered Ms. Crawford to consider any matters in mitigation or extenuation or other issues submitted by the defense and established a deadline of September 15th to submit matters to Ms. Crawford. The judge has given Ms. Crawford until September 25th to either “ratify” her earlier decision to refer charges or to withdraw the charges.

Accordingly, we are in the process of preparing a package of materials for Ms. Crawford’s consideration. We will also be requesting a personal audience with Ms. Crawford, but there is no guarantee that she will grant the request. She has refused my previous requests to meet with her. In addition to the matters that we will be preparing personally, we would like to present Ms. Crawford with letters of support from other concerned citizens and organizations, urging her to withdraw the charges. If you agree that the charges should be withdrawn, please take a few moments of your time to prepare a personal letter to the Convening Authority expressing your views.

Attached is a model letter with “talking points” that you may wish to consult. We will consolidate all of the letters received and present them as a package to Ms. Crawford. Please submit your letter not later than Friday September 12th. Do not send it directly to Ms. Crawford, but rather send it to Major Frakt.

If you would like us to review a draft of your letter before signing it, you may e-mail it to Major Frakt at If you have any questions, please e-mail or call (202)761-0133 extension 106. Once the letter is complete, you may e-mail it (signed .pdf document is best) or fax it to (202)761-0510 (Attn: Major Frakt). If you wish to mail the letter, please keep the efficiency of the U.S. Postal Service in mind and allow plenty of time. The mailing address is:

Major David Frakt
Office of Military Commissions - Defense
1099 14th St. NW. Ste 2000D
Washington DC 20005

Thank you very much in advance for your time and consideration. Together, we may be able to accomplish some small measure of justice for Mohammad Jawad.

David J. R. Frakt, Major, USAFR
Defense Counsel

Katharine Doxakis, LCDR, USN
Assistant Defense Counsel

If you go to, they have a Model Letter with Talking Points that anyone can use. Letters should be sent to:
The Honorable Susan J. Crawford
Convening Authority
Office of Military Commissions
1600 Defense Pentagon
Washington DC 20301-1600

Do not mail to Susan Crawford. Send the letter itself to:

Major David Frakt
Office of Military Commissions - Defense
1099 14th St. NW. Ste 2000D
Washington DC 20005
Jawad's attorneys suggest the following when writing the letter:
Please refrain from general attacks on the Bush Administration and its policies in the Global War on Terror. The Convening Authority is a loyal Bush administration insider and such attacks will not be helpful.

Please refrain from general attacks on the legitimacy of military commissions (however valid such attacks may be). Remember that your audience is the Convening Authority, a person deeply committed to the commissions. A better approach is to try to convince her that withdrawing the charges against Mohammad Jawad would enhance the legitimacy of the commissions by ensuring that commissions focus on real terrorists, and by demonstrating that the Convening Authority will respond fairly and reasonably when new evidence comes to light which casts doubt on earlier decisions.
Hat-tip to my colleague Trudy Bond for letting me know about the letter writing campaign.

International Torture Rehab Workers Take on APA

Psychologists for Social Responsibility has released a letter from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) to the American Psychological Association (APA). IRCT states the purpose of the letter is to formally encourage all APA members to vote “yes” on a proposed resolution that would ban psychologists from working in settings that violate international human rights law. The ballot for the resolution is in the mail now, and has already been received by many APA members.

The full text of the resolution, which was presented to APA by means of a petition campaign, and not by the APA official leadership, can be found here.

It's a great letter, and a moral boost to see that medical and psychological professionals from around the world, who work most closely with torture victims, have taken a strong stand against the serious ethical and criminal lapses that have grown up in the interstices of consciously ambiguous and legalistic definitions of torture and abuse.

It's also a blow to the political authority of the APA leadership, who consistently maintain that psychologists' jobs would be at stake if psychologists were to withdraw from the U.S. "war on terror" gulag; or that psychologists are needed to prevent abuses at such facilities.

The ICRT letter nicely answers such claims. As their letter points out, the recent development in which a military psychologist involved in interrogations at Guantanamo claimed the right against self-incrimination via the Fifth Amendment at a current military tribunal hearing, also belies APA claims of non-malfeasance.

I believe ICRT wants this communication circulated widely, so if you want to cut and paste, or circulate a link to it, I won't stop you.

Copenhagen, 22 August 2008

American Psychological Association
Attn: President Alan E. Kazdin
750 First St, NE Washington, DC 20002-4242

Dear President Kazdin and APA members,

The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) would like take the opportunity to address APA members on the role of psychologists in preventing torture and share our ideas of how the APA can move forward to ensure that its members practice their profession under the highest ethical standards.

As an umbrella organisation representing 139 torture rehabilitation centres and programmes in 70 countries, the IRCT understands the devastating impact of torture on survivors. Its consequences include not only physical effects such as long-lasting pain, but psychological sequelae – e.g. PTSD, anxiety and depression. The work of the IRCT and its member centres is to alleviate that suffering and work for the prevention of torture worldwide.

The IRCT is acutely aware that health professionals have participated, and continue to participate, in interrogations that violate national and international laws. For example, IRCT physicians played a key role ininvestigating and documenting the torture of 11 ex-detainees held in U.S.custody abroad, the findings of which were published in the Physicians for Human Rights report Broken Laws, Broken Lives. During their clinical interviews with the 11 men, these physicians learned that not only were health professionals present during torture and ill-treatment and failed to report the abuse, they also gave confidential information to interrogators and in some instances even denied medical care for the detainees. And just one week ago, lawyers for Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad charged that a psychologist’s report filed at the detention facility led to the then-teenager being placed in isolation, resulting in a deterioration of his mental health. (i) Such actions flagrantly violate the fundamental ethical precept of the health professions to “do no harm”.

Last year, the APA passed a resolution condemning and prohibiting psychologists’ participation in interrogation that involves torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. While the resolution represented a step forward in preventing torture and ill-treatment, on 4 September 2007 the IRCT issued a statement (ii) expressing concern about the qualifiers in the resolution in respect to the scope of definition of the techniques it mentions.

These concerns still stand. The IRCT thus reiterates that all of the listed techniques are illegal and unethical in all circumstances and not only when “used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm” as stated in the resolution. Moreover, we repeat our concern that the resolution adopts the United States’ reservations to the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which weakens the Convention by narrowing its definition of torture with regard to mental pain or suffering.

The IRCT is aware that APA members are currently voting on another resolution that would put a moratorium on members’ participation in military and CIA interrogations altogether. Given the abuses that have taken place in US-run detention centres around the world in later years and the ambiguities that the present US administration has sown with regard to the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment, the IRCT finds such a moratorium appropriate. Therefore we strongly urge APA members to vote “yes” on the proposed resolution.

As several APA members have noted, this resolution is intended to put an end to psychologists’ participation in interrogations that occur in settings that violate international justice and humanitarian standards; it would not prohibit psychologists from working in settings that uphold international and human rights law. The IRCT believes that the APA has the ability to set a precedent for mental health professionals worldwide. The profession of psychology already has suffered ethical damage through its association with the “war on terror” - it will take much time and effort to recover, but the passage of this resolution would be an important step toward healing.


Brita Sydhoff
IRCT Secretary-General

Jose Quiroga
IRCT Vice President and Representative of North America Region
Medical Director and Founder, Program for Torture Victims (Los Angeles)

i. The psychologist in question has invoked Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice so as not to be self-incriminated. For more information see:

ii. See

Thursday, August 21, 2008

John Locke on the Usurper & the Rights of the People

I'm not talking here about the John Locke who resides on the popular television show, Lost. The following quote is from the famed English philosopher John Locke, who was associated with the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, which overthrew England's James II. Locke's political writings were an early statement of political liberalism, and had a great influence upon the later American revolutionaries, especially Jefferson.

The quote below is from Chapters 18 and 19 from Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690). Bold text represents my emphases:
As usurpation is the exercise of power, which another hath a right to; so tyranny is the exercise of power beyond right, which no body can have a right to. And this is making use of the power any one has in his hands, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage. When the governor, however intitled, makes not the law, but his will, the rule; and his commands and actions are not directed to the preservation of the properties of his people, but the satisfaction of his own ambition, revenge, covetousness, or any other irregular passion....

It is a mistake, to think this fault is proper only to monarchies; other forms of government are liable to it, as well as that: for wherever the power, that is put in any hands for the government of the people, and the preservation of their properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it; there it presently becomes tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many....

Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another's harm; and whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another....

To conclude, The power that every individual gave the society, when he entered into it, can never revert to the individuals again, as long as the society lasts, but will always remain in the community; because without this there can be no community, no common-wealth, which is contrary to the original agreement: so also when the society hath placed the legislative in any assembly of men, to continue in them and their successors, with direction and authority for providing such successors, the legislative can never revert to the people whilst that government lasts; because having provided a legislative with power to continue for ever, they have given up their political power to the legislative, and cannot resume it. But if they have set limits to the duration of their legislative, and made this supreme power in any person, or assembly, only temporary; or else, when by the miscarriages of those in authority, it is forfeited; upon the forfeiture, or at the determination of the time set, it reverts to the society, and the people have a right to act as supreme, and continue the legislative in themselves; or erect a new form, or under the old form place it in new hands, as they think good.
Thus did the good bourgeois in the days of their ascendancy write into their founding documents the right of rebellion and revolution to protect the individual, who had entered via social contract with society into a government with the aim of protecting individual rights as a whole. This ultimate right, wherein power reverts to the individuals in society so they may change or redress tyranny and usurpation, was placed by Jefferson into the U.S. Declaration of Independence, only to molder with age, eviscerated by stale honorifics and unknowing, even hostile sanctimony.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Greenwald on the Anthrax Case & Media Subservience to Government Lies

Glenn Greenwald has been reporting in some depth on the FBI accusations that Fort Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins -- dead purportedly by his own hand -- was the sole attacker in the anthrax scare that followed after 9/11. If you haven't already been following Greenwald's coverage on this, then you owe it to read his columns.

In his latest piece, the former civil rights litigator and author of "How Would a Patriot Act? excoriates the servile U.S. press, whose primary role is "to serve government sources and amplify their claims, not to investigate their veracity." For instance, Greenwald describes how even weeks after the FBI claimed they had "solved" the anthrax case, they are still concocting timelines to make the "facts" fit their theory.

From Glenn's latest essay:
Being able to link an accused to the scene of the crime is the centerpiece of any case. That's why the FBI leaked its "administrative leave" theory to the Post and other media, which then spent all day highlighting the "incriminating fact." Yet the FBI's own theory made no sense and was immediately debunked, and so, in response, they just changed their theory to some completely different set of speculations the way political pundits have new "breaking news" every five minutes about who the likely Vice Presidential picks are. Does that behavior allow anyone to have confidence in what the FBI is saying?
The anthrax attacks post-9/11 played a huge role in amping up the terror scare, and consequently, the bellicose actions of the Bush Administration abroad, along with a crackdown on civil liberties at home (warrantless wiretapping, Patriot Act, use of torture, etc.)

The attempt to close the books on the anthrax investigation with the suicide-death of the government's prime "suspect" doesn't pass the smell test. I wish I'd had more time to spend looking into and writing about this essential story. It's comforting that Glenn Greenwald and others are on the job, especially as the big-time media has proven so useless, or craven (please feel free to pick your own modifier).

The Ivins case immediately reminded me of the ancient case of another suspicious Ft. Detrick "suicide," CIA-MKULTRA researcher Frank Olson. Another book on the Olson story, by researcher H. P. Albarelli, is due out later this year. In the meantime, interested readers should check out the series Albarelli wrote for Crime Magazine back in 2002 on the Olson case. And if that weren't enough motivation, consider that both Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were involved in later governmental efforts to cover-up the truth about Olson's death (as told in a related book published by Gordon Thomas earlier this year).

From the introduction to the Albarelli articles on Olson:
In 1975, 22 years after CIA Scientist Frank Olson allegedly committed suicide by jumping through a closed window on the 10th floor of his room in a New York City hotel in 1953, shocking new details about his death were revealed in the findings of a special Presidential Commission investigating the CIA. The case remained dormant from then until 1996 when Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau opened a new criminal investigation into Dr. Olson's death. Morgenthau's decision was spurred by the startling discoveries of noted forensic sleuth James Starrs of George Washington University, who took on the case at the behest of Olson's family. Following Starrs's many revelations, Morgenthau assigned the Olson case to his newly created Cold Case Unit headed by Stephen Saracco and Daniel Bibb.

Fox Censors Story on Torture Death of Kim Soo-im

Charles J. Hanley, special correspondent for Associated Press (AP), has written a compelling, fascinating and sad tale of the execution of purported Korean "Mata Hari", Kim Soo-im, at the start of the Korean War. He linked her torture and death to the recent revelations about the more than 100,000 murders of leftists or suspected leftists sympathizers in 1950 by the U.S.-allied (and some would say puppet) regime of South Korea.

This massive human rights crime was covered up by the United States for over fifty years, and it's unclear to what extent U.S. forces participated in the slaughter. We need to understand the history of lies and cover-up perpetuated by the Pentagon, State Department, and executive branch in general, not simply for history's sake, but because the aggressive U.S. militarist policy is accelerating beyond its Middle Eastern goals, and aiming itself at Russia. Placing missiles less than 200 miles from St. Petersburg -- US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski signed the deal today -- the U.S. flirts with a Third World War. Such a war would be a disaster of epic proportions, if anyone were left alive afterwards to judge the scope of its destruction.

Does the U.S. government tell the truth, particularly when it comes to war? Here's one story, with some notice of differential press coverage. It mostly follows the details as laid out in Hanley's AP story.

Kim's Story

Wonil Kim, Kim's son by former U.S. Colonel John Baird, has been trying to find out the truth about his mother's death, and the charges of spying for North Korea that led to her death. But recently declassified files, including those of a 1950 U.S. military investigation into the charges of spying by Soon-im, revealed it was known soon after her trial (if not even then) that the charges had no basis. Col. Baird, from whom Kim supposedly stole secrets, had no access to the disputed military information. Her confession had been elicited through waterboarding torture, and perhaps by electric shock and other barbaric physical means.

But like the deaths of many tens of thousands of others in cold blood by U.S. ally South Korea, the truth was hidden from the world. Important aspects of what occurred in Korea over 50 years ago remain unknown. As the censorship work of Fox News demonstrates, if they could, major players in the media would keep the reality of what happened hidden, caged in an ideological prison, unsafe for general distribution, the better to protect the image and behavior of the U.S. from both domestic and international condemnation.

Kim's story begins in 1941, when the glamorous and educated Soon-im married Lee Gang-kook, a German-educated Seoul leftist. Lee ended up on the "Central People's Committee, a broad nationalist coalition that sought to take over Korea from a defeated Japan in September 1945." The Japanese had occupied Korea in a brutal fashion since 1910. In Korea, this period is referred to as the Japanese Forcible Occupation Period.

After Japan was defeated in World War II, the U.S. occupied the southern portion of Korea, and the Soviets occupied the northern area. The dividing line was set at the 38th parallel. According to the AP article, in its full version published by Newsweek (emphasis added):
Cho [Myung-hwa, a film director planning a film on Lee's life,] pointed out a little-known fact: In 1946, a year after the U.S. Army occupied southern Korea at World War II's end, a U.S. Embassy poll found that 77 percent of southerners wanted a socialist or communist future.

Instead, the U.S. military government kept many of Japan's right-wing Korean collaborators in power, and the U.S. commander, Lt. Gen. John R. Hodge, vowed to "stamp out" the communists.
In the version of the story posted by Fox News, the first of the two quoted paragraphs is omitted. This is a "little-known" fact that Fox, and many in this country, would like to keep as obscure as possible. Fox News made one other redaction in AP's story, but I'll get to that in a minute.

After the U.S. occupational forces withdrew in 1949, Kim's former lover, Gang-kook, became a leader in the north, while Kim herself worked for her new lover, Col. Baird, assisting him in his work advising the national police of the new South Korean government. Kim also had a child by Baird, and he set up a house for her and the child, often spending his nights there with her.

Confession by Torture

But in March 1950, as arrests of thousands of leftists or suspected sympathizers in South Korea began in earnest under the right-wing, U.S. backed government of President Syngman Rhee, Kim was arrested. The North Korean invasion was still some three months away. The most serious charge against Soo-im was espionage, which carried the death penalty. Kim was supposed to have given U.S. military information to her former lover Gang-kook. There were assorted other charges, of keeping guns, of stealing government vehicles. There never was any material evidence, nor any eyewitnesses, to back up any of the charges.
"It was witch-hunting," said historian Jung Byung-joon, who has studied the case. "The South Korean police and prosecutors hated her because she was the lover of Lee Gang-kook, and then of Col. Baird, and nobody could touch her. They waited for their chance."
The South Korean prosecutors used torture to obtain a confession. By the third day of the trial, Kim broke down.
Col. William H.S. Wright, head of the Korea advisory group, had testified that her confession was probably forced through "out and out torture," probably near-drowning, or waterboarding, as it's now known.

"The water cure is a very common method," Wright said. "Electric shock and the use of pliers is frequent." [emphasis added]

A Korean source backs this up. In a 2005 Seoul TV report on Kim Soo-im, longtime government propagandist Oh Jae-ho, a staunch anticommunist, said he learned from a police official that the defendant had to be carried into the courtroom to confess on the final day.
For some reason, the Fox News version of the story did not include the middle paragraph quoted above. Was it the claim of the regularity by which a U.S. ally used waterboarding torture that Fox sought to hide? Or was it the use of other barbaric techniques? The use of pliers?

The confession sealed Kim's fate. She was found guilty by the South Korean military court, and executed. A top-secret inquiry by the U.S. military, initiated only weeks after the verdict, found Kim Soo-im innocent of the charges. Her file "was stamped 'case closed.'"

A government recommendation for a court martial for Col. Baird was ignored. The entire affair entered the realm of purported history, another bit of propagandistic lore, meant to display the perfidy of the communists, and the rightness of U.S. intervention and war.

Baird never spoke out to defend his lover, the mother of his son. The U.S. government never released its exculpatory findings, even as her case was used for propagandistic purposes over the years. One teleplay from the 50s said to depict Kim "as Asia's Mata Hari," was introduced by host Ronald Reagan. Cornonet magazine labeled her "The Korean Seductress Who Betrayed America."

As for Lee Gang-kook, an Army intelligence document links him to the CIA's "JACK" program (Joint Activities Commission, Korea). Lee was executed in the North after the war, labeled an American spy. One wonders if the story against Lee weren't concocted by the CIA, in part to build up the credentials of their own agent in Pyongyang. We shall likely never know.

After This, What Redemption?

Thanks to the valiant efforts of Kim's son, who only wanted to know the truth about his mother, Kim's story is being heard again. But in the wild roar that is the rush of 24-hour news, the clamoring of the blogosphere, and the distractions of video, gaming, films, and music, her story will sink back into the anonymity of old historical fact, like a stone dropped forever into the river Lethe.

And yet, poised on the edge of a new "Cold War, and the blood not dry yet from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, with its own hundreds of thousands dead, and millions of forgotten refugees... and yet, the story of Kim Soo-im has more relevance than ever. The use of torture by a U.S. ally, the cover-up of mass killings and judicial injustice, the censorship of what "foreigners" really think and feel, these lessons must be internalized by the body politic.

A terrible, final war approaches: a nuclear war. Make no mistake about it. If the U.S. keeps up its present direction of provocation and aggression abroad, and secrecy and lies and censorship at home, the convergence of the two will make war inevitable. And this time, missiles will fly, and civilization as we know it will end. The word "hope," cheapened into campaign slogan cant, will be banned, or worse, forgotten.

Only an educated populace, following leaders who are strongly anti-militarist, and recognizing the dangers that unbridled capitalism, imperialism, and nationalism represent for the future of mankind, will be able to take the necessary steps to turn the giant ship of history around, and steer it towards safer waters.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Stopping the Pro-NATO, Russophobic Insane War Drive

Billmon has a wonderful essay over at Daily Kos, "Anatomy of A(nother) Fiasco," that says almost everything I ever wanted to say about the Russian-Georgian crisis. That's a good thing, because I don't have the time to write up what I want to say. But that's okay, because you can read it anyway.

Here's some excerpts, but I strongly recommend you go read the entire thing. Send it to your family and friends.
...NATO expansion was passionately supported both by the neocons and the liberal internationalists (i.e. the old New Republic crowd) – and probably more importantly, by the Eastern European émigré lobbies that had clout both with the GOP and with the hawkish "Scoop Jackson" wing of the Democratic Party. And these passionate interest groups did what passionate interest groups usually do: They used their influence to make a legislative end run around an ambivalent but largely detached majority.

In early October 1994, as Congress hurried to adjourn for the mid-term elections, something called the "NATO Participation Act" was introduced.... The measure was quickly attached to a bill authorizing international aid for the war on drugs, unanimously passed by both houses on voice votes, and quickly signed into law by President Clinton. There was no floor debate and, as far as I can tell, virtually no press coverage....

Three years later... Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were formally admitted to NATO – obliging the United States to treat an attack on their territories as an attack upon our own – in other words, an ironclad guarantee that the United States would instantly, automatically, go to war to defend them from any external aggression....

In an rational world, in which leaders balance competing priorities against limited resources, the 9/11 attacks might have led to a rethink of NATO’s expansion plans. But amid the weird euphoria (or at least, delusions of omnipotence) that seem to have grabbed the Cheney Administration and the entire US foreign policy establishment by the brain stem after 9/11, the campaign to add a baker’s half dozen weak, ethnically divided states to the NATO club actually picked up steam....

You would think that with NATO’s right foot planted firmly on the Black Sea, and its left foot at the gates of St. Petersburg, the new containment doctrine would have reached its natural limits. But the Cheney Administration, again with the full support of the bipartisan enlargement lobby, immediately began to agitate for yet another NATO expansion, to bring such democratic powerhouses as Croatia – recently emerged from its ethnic grudge match with Serbia – and Albania – into the fold. After the "Orange" and "Rose" revolutions put pro-Western leaders in power in the Ukraine and Georgia, those two countries not only were added to the list, but pushed straight to the top of it....

It is (or at least used to be) an established principle that countries with unresolved border disputes make bad candidates for NATO membership – since it creates a risk the alliance will be dragged into grubby territorial disputes under the guise of collective security. It doesn’t exactly help that in Georgia’s case one of the disputed borders was actually drawn by home boy Josef Stalin, who arbitrarily incorporated Abkhazia into the Georgian Soviet Republic in 1931....

Once again, the US enlargement lobby sprang into action. In February of last year, with the newly born Democratic Congress still waiving its little arms and spitting up mucus, Dick Lugar (the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) and Joe Biden (the committee’s nominally Democratic chairman) introduced the "NATO Freedom Consolidation Act". Like its predecessors, the bill authorized the President to immediately begin treating the Ukraine and Georgia as full-fledged NATO allies in all but name – with weapons sales, military advisors, etc. Senate cosponsors included Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Gordon Smith of Oregon, and, naturally, John McCain (R-POW).

Also like its predecessors, the bill was whisked through both houses of Congress with about as much deliberation as a resolution praising the Future Farmers of Benton County for their fine showing at the Iowa State Fair – with no hearings, no debate, no roll call votes. President Bush signed it into law on April 9, 2007. The White House put out an official statement marking the occasion. It was one sentence long.

And so, with an absolute minimum of democratic process, the United States of America committed its full prestige and power (if not, just yet, a legally binding guarantee) to the defense of the two former Soviet republics, even though the Russians have repeatedly stated that they regard NATO membership by either country as a direct threat to their own vital security interests....

Looking at this dreary legislative record (which reads like something out of the old Supreme Soviet) is it any surprise Georgia’s president felt he had a virtual carte blanche from America to challenge the Russians – up to an including the use of military force in a disastrous bid to reconquer South Ossetia? Why would he think otherwise – that is, until the moment when he discovered that America had written him a check it had no real intention of honoring?

There's not much more to say - except that it’s a pretty strange world where the sworn goal of US diplomacy is to put the country in a situation where it may have to go to war with another nuclear power (or back down ignominiously) to defend the sanctity of borders drawn by Josef Stalin and Nikita Krushchev. Leaving aside the raving hypocrisy (Kosovo, Iraq) it’s an alarming sign that the national security and foreign policy elites of this country – in both parties; and not just among the lunatic neocon fringe – are totally out of control....

The national security state is doing exactly what it was designed to do, but without any of the external checks and counterbalances that existed during the Cold War – the war it was originally created to fight. The domestic political system, meanwhile, has atrophied to the point where it’s simply an afterthought – a legislative rubber stamp needed to keep the dollars flowing. With no effective opposition, the machine can run on autopilot, until it finally topples off a cliff (as in Iraq) or slams into an object (like the Russian Army) that refuses to get out of the way.

And that, ultimately, is the most depressing thing about this story: Even after the fiasco in Iraq, the bloody failure in Lebanon, the downward spiral in Afghanistan and, now, the futile posturing in Georgia, there’s absolutely no evidence the US foreign policy elite is inclined to moderate its ambition to re-organize the world along American lines. Nor is there any sign the political class (including, unfortunately, Barack Obama) is rethinking its lockstep support for that agenda. The voters, meanwhile, don’t seem to care much one way or another – as long as gas doesn’t get too expensive and the military casualties aren’t too high (or can be kept off the TV). If anything, it looks like bashing the Russians is still good politics, if only for the nostalgia value.
I don't re-publish long quotes from other blogs without good reason. This is an excellent history of the NATO expansionist policy that threatens world peace. It isn't comprehensive. There's nothing in it about the U.S. push to station forward missiles in Poland, for instance, which brought a warlike riposte recently from a Russian general; or the fact that many Europeans oppose this U.S. move. Nor is Billmon's piece an essay on the complex history of South Ossetia or Abkhazia's independence struggles vis-a-vis Georgia. But it is an excellent examination of the bankruptcy of the U.S. political process, and its by-now total dependence upon the interests that lie behind the national security state. It's recommended reading.

Scientists as Spies?

Following my other story covering the attempt by the Pentagon to utilize anthropologists and other social scientists in the military and intelligence agencies' "war on terror," I found this interesting quote from the great anthropologist pioneer, Franz Boas. The impetus for Boas's condemnation came from a scandal involving four U.S. anthropologists who utilized their professional positions as anthropologists to spy for the United States during World War I. The response of the American Anthropological Association to Boas's 1919 letter to The Nation? It censured him and forced him off the governing council.
Sir: In his war address to Congress, President Wilson dealt at great length on the theory that only autocracies maintain spies; that these are not needed in democracies. At the time that the President made this statement, the Government of the United States had in its employ spies of unknown number. I am not concerned here with the familiar discrepancies between the President’s words and the actual facts, although we may perhaps have to accept his statement as meaning correctly that we live under an autocracy; that our democracy is a fiction. The point against which I wish to enter a vigorous protest is that a number of men who follow science as their profession, men whom I refuse to designate any longer as scientists, have prostituted science by using it as a cover for their activities as spies.

–- Franz Boas, “Scientists as Spies,” The Nation, December 20, 1919.

Late Summer Reads on Psychology, Anthropology & National Security

For those trying to squeeze in some serious late summer reading, I strongly recommend Dr. Bryant Welch's recently published book, State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind.

Dr. Welch elegantly and succinctly describes the psychological mechanisms behind paranoia and denial, and links them to the mindset of many Americans post-9/11. This societal regression due to fear and uncertainty is exploited by political leaders and charlatans in a process Dr. Welch calls political gaslighting. The term "gaslighting" is derived from the classic movie Gaslight (with Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman), where a sociopathic husband subtly manipulates his wife's reality and invalidates her sense of what is real, until she feels she is becoming insane and enters a state of mental breakdown.

From State of Confusion:
When the mind's reality sense is repeatedly manipulated by clever people with devious intent, victims' mental ability to function is effectively eroded, and they become disoriented. Rationality falls by the wayside. People behave erratically, and, because of their own ever increasing uncertainty, they become dependent on demagogues and ideologues who speak confidently and appear to offer escape from the uncertainty. This has happened to millions of Americans who, lured by moralistic bromides, have turned to neoconservative spokesmen, ministers, and politicians and become dependent upon them, even enthralled by them....

Political gaslighting is a sophisticated psychological art form that has combined with mass media techniques to become a very powerful political instrument.... the American mind is being manipulated, making America's national behavior highly dysfunctional and volatile.
The book goes into more detail on the mental and social processes involved in this national regression and experience of mass manipulation, making it clear we live in very dangerous times. Those who seek to fight back against political reaction need to read about and understand the social-psychological processes that inhabit the psyches of those who fall under the sway of such reaction, and I can think of no better introduction than Dr. Byrant's book.

"The "Melding of Science and Commerce"

For those who may not have the time to read a full book right now, there are a few good articles I'd like to recommend.

For those following the controversy at APA, a long-time psychologist has started a website, VirtualAPA, and has produced two articles on the controversies over psychologist participation in torture and coercive interrogations. While I can't say I follow some of his more philosophical musings, his analysis of the dilemma that faces the American Psychological Association and institutional psychology (and by extension, psychiatry and medicine in general) is both sharp and incisive.
Psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen are not members of APA and can only be assailed from afar as unethical practitioners or ill informed scientists. The entity of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates can continue to operate and will function according to an entrepreneurial ethic. Their SERE training model is a brand, a product that has been successfully marketed to the military and to private corporate interests. The extension of their model into the detention centers and the “reverse engineering” is a logical business decision. They have increased their market share and can justify their actions, just as any military contractor does, that their efforts are good for the country and good for business.

This melding of science and commerce permeates the entire field.
Embedding Anthropologists?

Finally, over at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Hugh Gusterson has a good article on The U.S. Military's Quest to Weaponize Culture. In the article, Gusterson explains both the rationale and the growing opposition to embedding anthropologists and other social scientists in military operational teams, such as the so-called Human Terrain Team System:
The Pentagon plans 26 Human Terrain Teams--one for each combat brigade in Iraq and Afghanistan. The five-person teams include three military personnel. Each team also includes an anthropologist--or another social scientist--who will wear a military uniform and receive weapons training. Described as doing "armed social work" by David Kilcullen, an Australian expert in counterinsurgency who advises Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, the teams elicit information from villagers for Pentagon databases and provide cultural orientation to U.S. military leaders....

Last year, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) issued a statement condemning the use of anthropologists in Human Terrain Teams....

One cannot grasp AAA's concerns without understanding that anthropologists have a unique research method that brings with it special ethical responsibilities: We engage in what one anthropologist has called "deep hanging out" with people, passing the time with them, often day after day for months, painstakingly earning their trust and getting them to tell us about their worlds. What distinguishes anthropology from espionage (apart from anthropologists' impenetrable jargon) is that we seek the consent of our subjects, and we follow an injunction to do no harm to those we study. According to the anthropological code of ethics, our obligations to those we study trump all others--to colleagues, funders, and nation.
The article continues with an examination of another Pentagon program, Project Minerva, which plans to spend millions of dollars "to mobilize social scientists for open research related to the war on terror."

Meanwhile, U.S. Army personnel are showing up at meetings of anthropologists and taking down names and institutional affiliations of anthropologists who had signed a public pledge not to participate in "counter-insurgency operations in Iraq or in related theaters in the 'war on terror,'" believing that "anthropologists should refrain from directly assisting the US military in combat, be it through torture, interrogation, or tactical advice."

The U.S. ruling class's mobilization of all layers of civil society for the fear-driven defense of the nation against "terror," is leading to the militarization of the society as a whole. We are already far down this path... too far, such that many sober observers would already call the United States "fascistic."

I would stop short of making that judgment, but we may be closer to it than anyone would like to think. What is lacking is an all-out domestic assault against political opponents and organizations the government deems to be a danger to its political rule and ideology. Under fascistic rule, thousands, if not tens, even hundreds of thousands would be jailed, and violent terror against domestic political opponents would become the order of the day.

Let us hope it does not come to that. A portion of the academy is fighting back, as are other sectors of the society. The "hope" presidential aspirant Barack Obama embodies (whether he really intends it or not) is precisely the hope that U.S. society can turn back from the self-destructive path it appears at times determined to follow.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Gitmo Psychologist Pleads 5th on Torture

The New York Sun this morning is calling it an "unprecedented refusal to testify" at the second of the controversial military tribunals created by the Bush Administration to prosecute purported war criminals. (The first trial ended in what amounted to a 5 month sentence for Osama bin Laden's personal driver.)
The event that occurred in a courtroom yesterday at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.... When a military psychologist was called yesterday to testify about the treatment of a detainee [Mohammad Jawad], she pleaded the military law's equivalent of the Fifth Amendment privilege to not self-incriminate, the detainee's lawyer, Major David Frakt, said in a press release sent by an intermediary. The psychologist's name is protected by court order....

The woman's response suggests that military psychologists are concerned about either their professional licenses or criminal liability.
According to a story on the front page of Daily Kos yesterday, the psychologist in question is "U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Diane M. Zierhoffer, a licensed psychologist who had ordered the torture of a juvenile detainee, [and] refused to testify under Section 831, Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.... [which] prohibits compulsory self-incrimination as a right under the Fifth Amendment."

In a letter from Physicians for Human Rights to the top leadership of the American Psychological Association, to which Lt. Col. Zierhoffer is said to be a member, President Leonard Rubenstein decried what he appears to be "an institutionalized program of psychological torture supervised by teams of CIA psychologists and the Pentagon’s Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT), staffed predominantly by psychologists."

Rubenstein also noted the silence of APA leadership on the ongoing revelations, despite passing two "anti-torture" resolutions, yet refusing to call for an exit of psychologists and other mental health professionals from the government torture sites.

The revelations come on the eve of the APA annual summer convention, and battles within APA to pass a referendum that would pull psychologists out of the "biscuits" and operational involvement at "war on terror" detention sites generally.

What follows is a press release on the latest revelations by Psychologists for an Ethical APA, who are supporting both the resolution, and the candidacy for President of Steven Reisner, an active anti-torture proponent within APA.
Military Psychologist Invokes Right to Remain Silent at Guantánamo Hearing, Refusing to Testify About Abusive Treatment of Detainee

Psychologists and Human Rights Groups to Rally Saturday Against American Psychological Association’s Controversial Torture Policy

Thursday, August 14, 2008

CONTACTS: Emily Whitfield,
Stephen Soldz,

BOSTON – A military psychologist who recommended isolation torture techniques on a Guantánamo detainee today invoked her right not to incriminate herself, refusing to testify in the case of Mohammad Jawad.

Her testimony was sought by defense attorney Maj. David Frakt in a hearing on his motion to dismiss charges based upon government misconduct in using prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, and other torture techniques against his client in an attempt to make him more pliable in interrogations. Following a month-long isolation, apparently recommended by the military psychologist, Mr. Jawad – who entered Guantánamo as a teenager -- attempted suicide.

The psychologist’s testimony would have marked the first time that a member of the secretive Behavioral Science Consultation Team (known as BSCT or “biscuits”) had been called to testify in a detainee hearing. The BSCT program has been highly controversial among psychologists and other health professionals. The psychologist invoked her rights under Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military equivalent of the 5th amendment right against self-incrimination/right to remain silent.

“The fact that the BSCT Psychologist now apparently recognizes that her conduct was criminal in nature is very significant,” said Maj. Frakt. “We have alleged, based on classified government records that the BSCT psychologist's recommendation led directly to the illegal abuse and inhumane treatment of Mohammad Jawad. This invocation of the right to remain silent seems to confirm that.”

“The evidence in this case confirms our worst fears, that military psychologists are working to break down detainee's psyches,” said Dr. Stephen Soldz, an expert psychologist who had been called by Maj. Frakt to testify that the BSCT psychologist had violated the professional credo of “Do no harm.”

“Today’s developments only confirms our view that a full accounting of the shadowy BSCT program is long overdue,” he added. Dr. Soldz is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, and faculty member at Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis.

The news comes on the eve of a rally against torture to be held this Saturday outside the Boston Convention Center where the American Psychological Association, the largest group of its kind, is meeting this weekend. The APA has come under increasing fire for its refusal to ban its members’ participation in Bush administration coercive interrogations and torture, as the AMA and the American Psychiatric Association have done.

“The continuing silence of the APA on member involvement in torture is telling,” Dr. Soldz said. “No APA leader or official has ever uttered one word critical of actual U.S. abuse, or of the role of psychologists and psychological expertise in that abuse. They continue to stonewall on disciplining any psychologists who participated, despite promises to investigate.”

At Saturday’s rally, psychologists speaking out against the policy will be joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, and American Friends Service Committee and hear songs from “Raging Grannies” and local musicians.

The torture issue is of increasing concern to all Americans, APA members say, but of particular importance to psychologists because it violates their primary ethical obligation to “Do no harm.” As has been documented by numerous journalists and official government reports, psychologists helped develop, implement, standardize, and disseminate abusive interrogation techniques that have led to torture.

Ignoring this evidence, the APA has repeatedly claimed that psychologists aiding interrogations keep those interrogations "safe, legal, and ethical." Dr. Soldz said that the actions of the BSCT psychologist in Jawad’s case, typical as they appear to be of the BSCT program, show the falsity of APA's claim. Rather, BSCTs use their psychological expertise “to identify weaknesses in detainees that can be exploited to break them down psychologically and render them dependent upon the interrogators,” he said.

In the absence of ethical leadership from the APA, a referendum to remove psychologists from sites in violation of international law has been proposed by members; ballots went out to the membership last week and are due back in mid-September.

In a recent letter in support of the referendum, Bryant Welch, a clinical psychologist, attorney and former long-time APA official, said: “In the eyes of the world psychologists are being seen as aiders and abettors of torture. The damage to the profession grows day by day, and the shamefulness of it reflects on all of us, whether we like it or not.”

In his closing argument delivered today before the military commission in the case of U.S. v. Jawad, Maj. Frakt said: “ What has this country come to when a licensed psychologist, a senior officer in the U.S. Armed Forces, someone trained in the art of healing broken hearts and mending broken minds, someone with a duty to do no harm, turns her years of training and education to the art of breaking people, to the intentional devastation of a lonely, homesick teenage boy?”

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A lot depends now on what the rank and file membership of APA will do. Will they support Dr. Reisner's candidacy? Will they back the anti-torture referendum, or will they succumb to organizational inertia and guild-related fears and vote it down? The next period looks to be very interesting for those fighting within the health-care professions, and especially psychology, to end the cooperation of the professions with Bush's illegal and inhumane interrogation program.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

APA Referendum & the Prisons Issue: Vignettes from Hell

There was a bit of a scare for American Psychological Association supporters of the anti-torture referendum when some APA members who were withholding their dues in protest of APA interrogation policy felt they weren't getting their ballots in the mail. The mailing includes the APA ballot for president of the organization, as well as the ballot for the referendum. It turns out that the mailings may have been only somewhat delayed, and APA is cooperating to help members get their ballots.

In good news for referendum supporters, APA divisions 9 and 27, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) and the Society for Community Research and Action: Division of Community Psychology, respectively, have voted to endorse the referendum. Meanwhile, the debate over the pros and cons of the referendum, which seeks to ban psychologist participation "in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights," continues apace.

The initiators of the referendum are trying to address their opponents criticism, and have posted an updated FAQ page towards that end.

Abuse in American Prisons

Some of the opponents of the APA referendum say, disingenuously in my opinion, that passage of the referendum could jeopardize psychologist jobs in U.S. supermax prisons or other forensic settings. The leftwing version of this criticism is to oppose the resolution because it does not go far enough, i.e., that it fails to address both torture and abusive, inhumane conditions that occur in U.S. prisons.

It is indisputable that terrible abuse takes place in prisons in the United States, and that conditions and treatment in some amount to torture. This scandal has gone on for years, and the APA has totally failed to address it. However, to take anti-torture activists to task because their referendum (or earlier resolutions backed by the same group of supporters) addresses Pentagon/CIA torture and not abuse in American prisons, misses the point entirely, giving "progressive" cover to a political bloc with the supporters of military interrogator jobs in sites that disallow basic human rights.

The backers of the referendum address this issue in an August 6 letter to APA members:
We are well aware of the harms and legal struggles facing certain prisons and jails inside the domestic U.S. criminal justice system. However, the referendum takes no position on such settings where prisoners have full access to independent counsel and constitutional protections; nor does the referendum take a position on settings that now exist within the domestic mental health system where clients and patients also possess these basic rights.
I would have liked to see a stronger statement about the need to address the "harms and legal struggles" faced by domestic U.S. prisoners, but I also understand that the target the referendum is aiming at is the illegal military/CIA sites where prisoners have no constitutional or rights protection, and where torture is conducted as a matter of policy.

Still, both the medical and psychological establishments will have to face sooner or later the obscene mess that is U.S. penal practice. I can't understand, for my own part, why psychologists or any health professional would want to work in any place that propagates human suffering. For those who enter such institutions believing they can "make a difference" in treatment, or ameliorate suffering, they are usually cruelly disillusioned within a short period of time. (I have spoken to some of these psychologists, and they are have made it clear to me that the system is unsympathetic and unmoveable.) The others, like thousands of other prison employees, find ways to rationalize their collaboration with an unjust and barbaric system.

The conditions in U.S. prisons are bad and getting worse. A Human Rights Watch article noted:
A federal judge in 1999 concluded that Texas prisons were pervaded by a “culture of sadistic and malicious violence.” In 1995, a federal judge found a stunning pattern of staff assaults, abusive use of electronic stun devices guns, beatings, and brutality at Pelican Bay Prison in California, and concluded the violence “appears to be open, acknowledged, tolerated and sometimes expressly approved” by high ranking corrections officials....

In January 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice reported on terrible conditions at Arizona’s juvenile detentions centers, including sexual abuse of the children by staff members (and fellow inmates) that occurs “with disturbing frequency” and a level of physical abuse that is ”equally disturbing.”
Murder by Medical Neglect: the case of Hiu Lui Ng

The New York Times has an article by Nina Bernstein yesterday on the death in immigration custody of Hiu Lui Ng, a computer engineer in the U.S. since 1992, placed in detention a year ago even as he was applying for his green card. Denied treatment for months, it took a federal judge's order to get an MRI for Mr. Ng. The results came too late for any effective treatment.
In April [2008], Mr. Ng began complaining of excruciating back pain. By mid-July, he could no longer walk or stand. And last Wednesday, two days after his 34th birthday, he died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a Rhode Island hospital, his spine fractured and his body riddled with cancer that had gone undiagnosed and untreated for months....

Mr. Ng’s death follows a succession of cases that have drawn Congressional scrutiny to complaints of inadequate medical care, human rights violations and a lack of oversight in immigration detention, a rapidly growing network of publicly and privately run jails where the government held more than 300,000 people in the last year while deciding whether to deport them.
The article chronicles the nightmarish treatment of Mr. Ng, as officials seems to have lied about his treatment, and shifted him from prison to prison to avoid his habeas petition, filed so he could seek medical treatment. The Times article documents other recent cases of negligence leading to fatalities for immmigrant prisoners in its system.

Release Torture Victim Pol Brennan!

A case that does link U.S. prisons with the larger torture issue concerns the continued incarceration of former Irish Republican Army member Pol Brennan. He was arrested over 30 years ago for carrying explosives, and imprisoned in the notorious "H-blocks" of Long Kesh Prison in Britain (razed in 2006), where prisoners were subjected to torture via the "five techniques". These techniques would seem familiar to us today, who have seen the revelations from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. They include hooding, wall-standing (stress positions), sensory overload via noise, sleep deprivation, and deprivation of food and drink.

Pol Brennan escaped from Long Kesh as part of a big prison break of 38 prisoners in 1983.

Sandy Boyer and Shaun Harkin described Mr. Brennan's situation in an article at Counterpunch last May.
Pol made his way to the [San Francisco] Bay Area, where he met and married Joanna Volz, a U.S. citizen. They lived quietly until January 1993, when federal agents arrested Brennan on a British extradition warrant. He was forced to spend more than seven years fighting extradition, and was imprisoned for three of those years, half the time in a building with no windows.
The situation in Northern Ireland changed dramatically in ensuing years, with a political agreement between the Provisional IRA and the British government. Britain withdrew its request for Brennan's extradition in 2000. The U.S. also suspended deportation proceedings against some former IRA prisoners. But Brennan still faced deportation, though it was put on hold as his application for political asylum was being considered.

Brennan settled into domestic life, working as a carpenter. As adjudication for political asylum often does (to the stress of those applying, and the scandal of social justice in the U.S.), his asylum case went on for years, while his work permits were routinely approved.

But the new gung-ho security forces born in the fires of 9/11 have generated a new atmosphere. On January 26, 2008, Brennan and his wife were stopped at an immigration checkpoint in Texas. Because his work authorization was expired, and despite the fact that he could produce evidence of his asylum case and pending work permit application, the Border Patrol locked him up:
Brennan says, "They acted as if they had caught the terrorist al-Zarqawi, as they as they huddled around their computer screens. Their little eyes were jiggling in their heads with excitement"....

Brennan was soon moved to solitary confinement, because, apparently, he was considered an escape risk since he broke out of Long Kesh 25 years earlier. It was as if they expected the IRA to invade South Texas to free him.

Today, Pol is locked in a cell 23 hours a day....

An immigration judge denied Brennan bail, saying he is a "flight risk" and "a danger to the community."
According to an ACLU attorney, Mr. Brennan is currently being held at "Willacy County Detention Center, also known as 'Tent City' or 'Ritmo,' and the South Texas Detention Complex. Willacy is run by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a Utah-based private prison company that gained some notoriety when its former director was tapped to set up the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq." (Emphasis added) Willacy is so bad that its own guards went to the media to complain of rotten maggot-infested food being fed to its 2000 or so immigrant prisoners.

Pol Brennan is another in a by now long stream of victims of abitrary detention and inhumane treatment by the U.S. government and its seamy security contractors. Those who wish to support Mr. Brennan in his campaign for release should visit his support website.

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