Saturday, January 2, 2016

Guantanamo Psychologist "Ban" Incomplete, Evidence of FBI Torture Ignored

While it is certainly a victory, or partial victory, to have psychologists removed from national security interrogations at Guantanamo, as James Risen reports in The New York Times, it turns out psychologists are not actually completely removed from that Cuban-based prison facility.

Note the careful wording of Risen's story (bold emphasis added):
The United States military has sharply curtailed the use of psychologists at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in response to strict new professional ethics rules of the American Psychological Association, Pentagon officials said.

Gen. John F. Kelly, the head of the United States Southern Command, which oversees Guantánamo, has ordered that psychologists be withdrawn from a wide range of activities dealing with detainees at the prison because of the new rules of the association, the nation’s largest professional organization for psychologists. The group approved the rules this past summer.
Risen's article relates a statement by SOUTHCOM spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Karin Burzynski, which explains that the removal of psychologists was due to APA's new policy about psychologists and national security interrogations, and the military was concerned about possible licensing or ethics board charges for military psychologists.

Those new APA rules state: "in keeping with Principle A (Beneficence and Nonmaleficence) of the Ethics Code to 'take care to do no harm,' psychologists shall not conduct, supervise, be in the presence of, or otherwise assist any national security interrogations for any military or intelligence entities, including private contractors working on their behalf, nor advise on conditions of confinement insofar as these might facilitate such an interrogation. This prohibition does not apply to domestic law enforcement interrogations or detention settings that are unrelated to national security interrogations."

Hence, in my reading it seems as if psychologists could be allowed at Guantanamo, in order to advise on conditions of confinement insofar as such advice does not "facilitate" interrogation. Perhaps that is what General Kelly is referring to when Risen quotes him as ordering psychologists withdrawal from "a wide range of activities dealing with detainees," i.e., not from all activities dealing with detainees.

As almost a side note, Risen quotes DoD's Burzynski as saying that all interrogations have now ceased at Guantanamo, except so-called "voluntary interviews" detainees wish with make to officials. No one questions how, at a facility under total control by the military, with detainees kept under conditions of indefinite detention (which themselves constitute torture), such "voluntary interviews" can be offered.

According to Risen, APA officers will meet with administration officials from the Pentagon and the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) later this month. In Risen's article, APA's Senior Policy Adviser Ellen Garrison seems to stand up to the Pentagon, and tell them APA will not change its policy to please them.

But back in 2008, when the APA membership voted on a petition to ban psychologists from sites like Guantanamo, Ms. Garrison worked with now-resigned Ethics chair Stephen Behnke to craft a "con" statement calling for defeat of the petition. It will be interesting to see how the old guard APA bureaucracy, now working with some of its former opponents on the interrogation issue, will address outstanding issues surrounding implementation of the new "ban."

But, no one is arguing for a total "ban" of psychologists from Guantanamo. Furthermore, it remains to be seen how anyone will be able to tell if the Pentagon stands by its word, not to mention how anyone will monitor the CIA for adherence to APA's new policy.

"Banned" psychologists and paper opposition

Risen's NYT article states, "Psychologists will still provide mental health care for American military personnel who work at the prison, which is allowed under the association’s rules."

Such psychologists apparently will continue to serve in a clinical function for troops or other U.S. personnel serving at the base, and presumably, the prison. This is indeed in line with the letter and spirit of "Resolution 23B," which mandated the new association rules (PDF), including a provision that psychologists could remain "at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, 'black sites,' vessels in international waters, or sites where detainees are interrogated under foreign jurisdiction" if "providing treatment to military personnel."

That particular exception was a weakness with the resolution. Nevertheless, the resolution passed overwhelmingly by the APA's Council of Representatives last August was supported by anti-torture psychologists, such as those at Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR). But the resolution's "ban" still allows for Guantanamo to function, and for psychologists to work there if "providing treatment to military personnel." I believe that aspect was a compromise made to get support for the resolution as a whole, and has been a matter of compromise between pro-participation and anti-participation forces within APA for some years now. But with the new resolution passed changing rules on interrogations, there is no reason not to take up this broader issue now.

It is disturbing to see the responses to this development by press and anti-torture activists and not see any condemnation of the American Psychiatric Association (APsyA) or the American Medical Association (AMA) for their paper opposition to use of their membership in interrogations, as apparently psychiatrists (along with other nurses and technicians) are to replace psychologists in detainee interrogation, detention and/or detainee clinical matters.

Indeed, I've searched high and low to find any mainstream critic of U.S. interrogation policy or torture denounce the hypocrisy of APsyA or AMA in this matter. One partial exception is Stephen Miles, author of Oath Betrayed: America's Torture Doctors. Miles has called out AMA for a lack of leadership on the question of doctors working for the CIA interrogation program, and in general has assailed the field for its silence on medical participation in or planning of torture. But I have not seen a similar criticism by anyone of APsyA's failure to enforce its own policy banning psychiatrists from work at Guantanamo.

The fact remains, to date, no U.S. medical professional has ever been held accountable for their role in the "war on terror" torture scandal.

FBI interrogations and torture

Nor does the new policy stated by DoD have any bearing on interrogations conducted by CIA, foreign intelligence services, or the FBI. Obama's 2009 reforms of the Bush-Cheney era torture interrogations meant shutting down CIA's long-term black sites, and resting interrogation policy on the relevant Army Field Manual and ongoing reliance on rendition of "terror" suspects to interrogation and detention by foreign intelligence services ("extraordinary rendition").

But the Army Field Manual has been condemned by the UN's Committee Against Torture as containing abusive forms of interrogation, even as Congress has enshrined it in U.S. law. And human rights groups and legal groups have assailed the empty "assurances" of foreign governments that renditioned prisoners will not be tortured or abused.

Meanwhile, the role of the FBI in coercive interrogations is something that has been completely passed over. Previously, there were reports of torture of renditioned prisoners in the aftermath of the 2010 World Cup bombing in Kampala, Uganda. The FBI's activity in the latter investigation was said to be the largest between that time and 9/11. A number of prisoners renditioned from Kenya and Tanzania have accused the FBI of torture under interrogation in Uganda, including death threats and physical abuse by FBI agents.

One such affidavit of torture in my possession, by Kenyan national Yahya Suleiman Mbuthia, details such alleged FBI torture. The claims are consistent with charges by other prisoners also interrogated in the Kampala bombing.
"... [FBI] officers said, "Don't lie to us -- we know everything about you. We will finish your family -- first your wife and then your two kids..."

"... one (1) FBI officer, with blue eyes, cocked his gun as if he were going to shoot me, saying that there was a bullet inside with my name on it.... the same officer told me he would kill me or leave me to rot in Luzira."

"... I was severely ill-treated during interrogation, including having an FBI officer standing behind me hitting me on the back of the head with his fist... when the FBI wanted to do their dirty work, they would ask the Ugandans to leave, and by dirty work I mean beating, forcing me to sign papers and threatening me...."

"... during interrogation, if I refused to do something, I would be hooded for 30 minutes to an hour, during which time FBI officers would cock their guns as if they were about to shoot me..."
In a separate affidavit, another Kenyan national, Idris Magondu, who also was renditioned to Uganda and interrogated by both Ugandan police and FBI, wrote, "after the Court appearance at which I was not represented by legal Counsel, I was ordered to be remanded to Luzira Upper Prison where the FBI officers interrogated me several times... during the interrogations, the FBI officers shouted and threatened me, telling me that President Museveni had ordered his army to kill me, and the officers were banging on the table and were very aggressive."

According to Magondu, "one of the FBI officers had a pistol which he kept drawing my attention to."

In November 2012, Open Society Justice Initiative released a report on human rights abuses by the FBI in the wake of the World Cup bombing. In June 2013, the FBI responded to the OSJI report: "The FBI has found these claims to be without merit, because no evidence was identified by the FBI or any other independent entity to support them. The type of abuse alleged is wholly contrary to the FBI’s policy on interrogating suspects in foreign countries. The FBI’s policy is consistent with internationally recognized standards of conduct such as those set forth in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions."

OSJI noted in its own response, "the FBI has not provided sufficient detail regarding its investigation of the allegations of detainee abuse by the FBI in Uganda or its basis for the conclusion that the allegations are without merit."

FBI and Mitchell-Jessen

FBI officials also figured prominently in the APA-initiated "independent" review of APA's activities around the interrogation-torture scandal. The report produced by Chicago attorney David H. Hoffman (large PDF), despite mainstream accolades, was a limited hangout on the torture issue, as it minimized or explained away for top U.S. psychologists collaboration with the CIA. Such minimization included the fact a former APA president had been part of the partnership of Mitchell-Jessen and Associates, contractors to the CIA's torture machine. Hoffman found this fact unworthy of further investigation in relation to APA's ethics.

But Hoffman and his investigators uncovered a wealth of new information which APA subsequently has posted on its website. This material shows what the report only covers tangentially, that is, that top FBI psychologists worked closely with APA, CIA and the military in discussing interrogation matters, including detection of deception that could affected by use of sensory overload or use of drugs in interrogation.

At the close of 2004 report on a July 2003 APA-CIA-RAND workshop, "The Science of Deception: Integration of Theory and Practice," there is a list of participants, and we can see that top FBI psychologists, such as then-FBI Behavioral Science Unit Chief Stephen Band and Anthony Pinizzotto, attended along with other academics and CIA officers, including psychologist Kirk Hubbard and psychiatrist Andy Morgan, and CIA contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

The report was marked "Not for distribution."

"Research challenges" discussed at the 2003 meeting included "What pharmacological agents are known to affect apparent truth-telling behavior?" and "How might we overload the system or overwhelm the sense and see how it affects deceptive behaviors?"

Participants also discussed how to manipulate or increase subjects's anxieties. They also proposed research to discover "how interrogators might take advantage of some of the transference and counter-transference strategies used by psychotherapists."

A fuller analysis of this document awaits, but who will attempt it?

Hoffman passed without comment over this material. APA anti-torture activists (including former APA members who quit over the APA's interrogation policy) have not seen fit to comment either on the documented collaboration of the APA with key FBI officials, or on the release of this document. Even when it was revealed that James Mitchell had been invited as an expert to February 2002 FBI conference at its Quantico headquarters, links between FBI and the CIA torture program have been ignored. (Mitchell's invite came almost two months before he went to the CIA black site in Thailand and helped initiate the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" torture program.)

Part of the issue is that the mainstream narrative is that FBI agents, such as Ali Soufan, blew the whistle on CIA torture. While some FBI agents were queasy about torture techniques used by both the Department of Defense and the CIA, it seems there's a lot of house cleaning to do within the agency itself.

Even the story of Soufan's protest at Mitchell and Jessen's intervention in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah is more nuanced than normally reported. For instance, Soufan told a Senate panel in May 2009 that his interrogation techniques with Zubaydah were not compliant with Geneva Common Article 3. In fact, Soufan said none of the FBI's interrogations were so compliant after 9/11. (See video of back and forth between Soufan and Sen. Lindsey Graham, beginning at 2:17, downloadable at this link.)

Doctors who said "no"

During the Vietnam War, there were doctors who refused to serve a corrupt and evil military regime. Navy doctor, Captain Howard Levy was court-martialed, not because he refused to torture, but to even serve as a trainer for Special Forces personnel. According to a follow-up story from 2002 in the New York Times, Levy survived his court-martial to carve out a career in medicine.

How was Levy's refusal to serve the military fighting an imperialist war in Vietnam any different really from the question of whether or not doctors or psychologists or nurses should refuse to serve in Guantanamo or other black sites? Capt. Levy charged (according to a legal look at his case) "that had he trained the [Special Forces] aidmen he would have been complicitous in war crimes committed by Special Forces."

Nor was Levy alone. An essay from the book Military Medical Ethics documents that more than 300 U.S. medical students and young doctors signed a pledge not to serve in the Armed Forces in Vietnam during that conflict.

Will APA, which is rumored to be assembling a new ethics panel to consider future ethics policy, continue to allow psychologists to still serve military forces at Guantanamo or other interrogation sites? It would seem so, if one considers recent activities around reforming psychological ethics.

[Note on personal connection to this subject: I have at times been a member of PsySR, and remain active on their listserv.]

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