Saturday, July 30, 2016

Detainee Testimonies on Psychologists' Complicity in Guantanamo Torture: "They were not there to help, but to harm"


It has been brought to my attention that a group of psychologists at the American Psychological Association are attempting to overturn a ban on work by psychologists at Guantanamo. The ban, in effect only a year, was the result of controversy engendered after the release of the Hoffman Report (PDF), which claimed complicity by high officials at APA in facilitating abusive interrogations at Guantanamo and other military sites.

According to a statement just released by Psychologists for Social Responsibility, a professional group separate from APA, "Participants in this delegitimization campaign include key individuals directly involved in the documented collusion; several past presidents of the APA and past chairs of the APA’s Ethics Committee, most of whom served during the period of collusion; and the leadership of the APA’s military psychology division, which has long advocated for psychologist participation in specific operational roles that raise challenges for the profession’s do-no-harm standard."

The effort to overturn the ban is based on a contention that psychologist work at Guantanamo is humane and ethical. Below I will show by testimony from detainees themselves that the presence of psychologists has been anything but humane.

The Hoffman Report, which gave powerful impetus to those seeking to end APA support of psychologists working with national security interrogators (a member-initiated referendum to end such support was passed years earlier, but had little effect) was not without its flaws.

The report, whose chief investigator-author was a former associate of ex-CIA chief George Tenet, actually understated, if anything, the amount of complicity and ethical misdeeds by APA officials. Even worse, it downplayed collaboration by APA officials, including a number of past presidents, with the CIA's own interrogation program.

But the Hoffman Report did stimulate powerful reform efforts at APA. As a result, last summer a resolution was passed by APA's Council of Representatives that essentially called for removal of psychologists from Guantanamo or other sites of abusive national security interrogations. (Psychologists were pointedly allowed to continue working in any domestic prison sites where abuse might be taking place, such as a SuperMax prison, such policy being a concession, or sell-out, if you prefer, to certain internal APA critics.) And while no one knows exactly how many psychologists might still be left at Guantanamo, or how DoD could still find ways to use psychological knowledge and technique in nefarious ways at the Cuba-based prison and elsewhere, the new APA policy certainly put an obstacle in the way of government-sanctioned abusive interrogations and torture.

The new APA rule read:
It is a violation of APA policy for psychologists to conduct, supervise, be in the presence of, or otherwise assist any individual national security interrogation, nor may a psychologist advise on conditions of confinement insofar as those might facilitate such an interrogation. Furthermore, based on current reports of the UN Committee Against Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, it is also a violation of APA policy for psychologists to work at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, “black sites,” vessels in international waters, or sites where detainees are interrogated under foreign jurisdiction “unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights” or providing treatment to military personnel.
The backers of the change in rules on psychologists at Guantanamo, which is being voted on as Resolution 23A at an APA Council meeting during the upcoming APA convention in early August, claim that there are no interrogations at Guantanamo any more. Indeed, in a December 31, 2015 James Risen article at The New York Times, a spokeswoman for U.S. Southern Command indicated "only voluntary interviews are conducted when a detainee asks to speak with American personnel."

As I noted in an article last January, "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."

Recent U.S. Interrogation Abuse Involving Psychologists

Resolution 23A relies heavily on the supposed fact that torture was banned via Executive Order by President Obama, and that Congress has added the force of law to that ban with the McCain-Feinstein Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015. The authors of the resolution didn't state HOW this U.S. policy assured torture was banned. But it has been amply documented that the method of interrogation was to be safeguarded by reliance on U.S. Army Field Manual (AFM) 2-22.3 on interrogation, or, in Pentagon bureaucratese, "Human Intelligence Collector Operations."

But the report of the United Nations Committee on Torture panel, reviewing U.S. interrogation practices in late 2014, found the AFM's Appendix M, and in particular its sleep limitations or deprivation, amounted to use of "a form of ill-treatment." Moreover, a procedure known as "field expedient separation" could “create a state of psychosis with the detainee,” and raised UN concerns over use of torture via the Army Field Manual. UN officials who monitor the torture treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory called for the U.S. “to review Appendix M of the Army Field Manual (AFM) in light of its obligations under the Convention.”

But U.S. officials have defended the AFM, and reviews of Appendix M were put off for another three years by Congressional fiat. This is how things stand, even though the UN official review was if anything too soft on U.S. interrogation practice in the Army Field Manual. See here for a fuller critique. For examples of how Appendix M works in practice, see a recent article by Ali Watkins and Aram Roston at Buzzfeed, which includes links to numerous released documents on Appendix M usage. These documents show that the Obama administration was using Appendix M interrogations into at least 2012. These interrogations directly rely upon presence of medical and mental health personnel, like psychologists, because they are so dangerous.

One could go on and on with this subject. For instance, last summer it was reported that psychologists continued to be part of the forced feeding procedures used by Guantanamo officials. The testimonies reproduced later in this article also reveal the little-noted fact that psychologists also participated in the violent forced cell extractions at Guantanamo. Why could they have been there? Were they recording detainee responses as some perverted kind of research?

Deceased Guantanamo detainee, Adnan Latif, described to his attorney the forced cell extractions he endured at Guantanamo: "I was hurt badly by the IRF teams. Imagine that one night, from sunset until six in the morning, they entered my cell fifteen times. During those times, they tied me to a stretcher and carried me to the clinic in camp five then returned me back to my cell. They repeated that fifteen times until I lost my mind; they broke my bones and made me bleed. This also happened on the second day when they entered my cell ten times hitting my head against the wall and dragging me on the floor and leaving me there in the middle of the cell which was full of water, urine and feces. I was left in this dirty mixture all day with my hands tied firmly behind my back."

Fostering "Anxiety and Dislocation"

The opponents to a psychologist ban at Guantanamo ask in Resolution 23A that APA resolve (bold italics added for emphasis) "in keeping with Principles A and D of the [APA] Ethics Code, [that] military and national security psychologists will be recognized as providers of psychological treatment to military personnel at detention settings, as well as to any other individual or group in need of psychological care, including detainees. Current APA policies (i.e., the first paragraph of Statement 1 of the 2013 policy and the “be it resolved” clause of the 2008 Petition Resolution policy, Psychologists and Unlawful Detention Settings with a Focus on National Security) will be changed accordingly...."

It has always been the contention of the so-called national security psychologists and their supporters that psychologists at Guantanamo and other like detention sites are humane and tend to the needs of detainees when the are under their care. But, as an internally circulated document of defense of current APA policy notes, "Therapy at these sites is inevitably compromised. Recently released policy documents make it clear that the therapists at the [CIA] black sites were not allowed to offer therapy that could 'undermine the anxiety and dislocation that the various interrogation techniques are designed to foster.' In other words, the therapists were prohibited from alleviating the distress caused by interrogators."

Crucially, there exist multiple detainee testimonies which strongly support the contention that psychologist actions at Guantanamo have been anything but therapeutic. Oddly, it seems no one in the press or academia has made a compendium of detainee charges of abuse by psychologists, so I offer the following list as an initial attempt to document in one place such charges. Of course, I do not claim this list is exhaustive. Indeed, I hope others add to it. In the meantime, I hope this list makes it into the hands of APA Council members and other interested parties who may be considering sending APA backwards on the torture issue, rather than forwards.

Detainee Testimonies of Torture by Psychologists at Guantanamo

Testimony 1 - In this first testimony, we see that psychologists are accused of foisting medications on detainees. Normally, psychologists, who are not medical doctors, cannot prescribe medications. But the Pentagon some years ago began a program to train psychologists to prescribe medications, and hence the allegations here that psychologists are giving medicine to detainees is not a matter of confusion by a detainee between a psychologist and a doctor-psychiatrist. The APA had long been supportive of programs to train psychologists to prescribe medications. See this Feb. 2003 article by APA, "Psychology's first prescribers: DoD-trained psychologists have been paving the way so that others might one day prescribe."

Testimony to Witness to Guantanamo (Khaled Ben Mustafa):
"Ultimately, there is no use in seeing a psychologist because he is just going to listen to you and then he will prescribe some medicine. We all know what the problem is; it isn't going to be fixed with medicine. The psychologist knows the problem; he knows what's wrong with you. So, there is some hypocrisy behind all this, because everyone knows what the problem is; it isn't hard to figure out. When you see the living conditions in Guantanamo, you know what the problem is. So, he is going to listen to you; he is going to give you medicine. But he too is an accomplice in the system. You know what I mean? In Guantanamo, everyone you met, they were all part of the system. One cannot trust anyone in Guantanamo; not anyone, because they are all on the same side. They are all fine with the system."
Testimony 2

Summary of a medical examination of former Guantánamo prisoner Youssef (not his real name).54 This examination was carried out under the auspices of Physicians for Human Rights by a team consisting of a physician and apsychologist/psychiatrist. The summary is taken from pages 56-61 of the Physicians for Human Rights' report Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and its Impact, published in June 2008.

While in Camp Delta, Youssef asked to speak with a psychologist because he was distressed, and the two spoke about him missing his family and his feelings of sadness. Although Youssef believed the meeting was confidential, he stated that shortly after the psychologist left, he was brought to an interrogator who immediately brought up information connected to his disclosures, such as telling him that he was going to stay at Guantánamo for the rest of his life and discussing his family (“Don’t you want to leave this place and get back together with your family?”...If you do as we tell you, you can get back to your family.”). He stated, “I figured out the reason they had called me for the interrogation was because the psychologist had told them about the meeting.” He stated, “They were stressing these fears very much.” Following this interrogation, Youssef reported that he was moved to the “worst” section in Camp Delta, where he was not allowed to have a blanket or a mattress.
Testimony 3

Testimony to Witness to Guantanamo (Haji Mohammed Ayub)
And then they called probably 20 or 30 guards to come and forcefully get him out. So he said, “I’m not coming out.” He was stubborn. He went on his bed and laid down there. He just laid on his bed. And the person who is not resisting the fight, or he’s lying quietly on the bed…They came in and they sprayed him. They sprayed the block with a gas. And then sprayed him and all that. And he was getting nauseated with that. And they sprayed some chemical on the dishtowel and then put it on his face, rubbing it on his face, putting it on his mouth. Actually the 20 or 30 guards, there was a psychologist, and then the person in charge and translator—everybody was there. They beat him up and they dragged him out of his cellblock. They got him all undressed, took all of his clothes off. He was only wearing underwear. And then he was trying to spit on the guards and he was trying to fight but he was all shackled up. They tied him up. And there were so many people around him, and he was just fighting. He says, “I tried to spit, it’s not going to reach them, but I was just fighting and spitting on people.” And the psychiatrist said, “He is going crazy. He is mentally…he is not stable. So we need to put him in the mental block.” The place where they keep all the people who have mental problems.
Testimony 4

Witnessing Guantanamo: Transcription of Salim Mahmoud Adem's Interview
Interviewer: Amy Goodman
Interviewee: Salim Mahmoud Adem
Interpreter: Isma'il Kushkush
Date of interview: 31 May 2008
Place of Interview: UC Davis (via videoconference with Sudan)
AG: Did you know any, did you meet any psychologists there?

SMA: I did not meet any because we had certain situations. Some accepted to take medicine from psychologists that they were told was medicine, but they gave them drugs, and one would be passed out and in a state of addiction for a long period of time. Many of the prisoners--the psychologists were the ones that tortured them with medicine because they don’t speak during interrogation.

AG: What kind of medicine?

SMA: But I saw my neighbor, who was from Uzbekistan, they would inject into him, and he would sleep for three or four days on the metal in the cell, and then after that he became addicted. His name is Abu Bak [phonetic spelling]. And then Abdurahman from Afghanistan and Sultan al-Joufi from Saudi Arabia, and Yaghoub [phonetic] and Koleidad [phonetic] from Kazakhstan, Koleidad [phonetic] from Afghanistan, and others from Pakistan, and Dr. Eymen [phonetic] from Yemen who was a surgeon...

AG: What about all of them?

SMA: All of them became addicted to the injections. Yaghoub, from Kazakhstan, left Guantanamo, and he became insane.

AG: Where were they injected?

SMA: In their arms or thighs, most in their arms. Once he was injected, he would sleep for days. He would eat and then sleep. He would eat and sleep. This injection might be monthly or semi-monthly. What I saw, one who left before me – Guantanamo before me – was in the chamber who became completely insane, and despite that they would punish him harshly. And because of all of this, we all became afraid of dealing with psychologists. Recently, when I was transferred to the sixth prison [Camp 6?], isolation, it was very cold and [there] were bright lights. We were cut off from the world, a great wall like the Wall of China, and we could not see the sun. Even if they took us to walk out, this room that we are in right now is much bigger than it. Two could barely walk in it.

During this period they would bring psychologists to look at us monthly, and one would come in and say, ‘Do you want to speak to a psychologist?’ And he would come with a translator. People were on guard from psychologists because they lost their specialty as doctors.
Testimony 5 - this example is interesting because it provides multiple testimony to something I didn't know: that psychologists would be present at Forced Cell Extractions (see also Testimony 3 above) - also if you read the entire KSM interview linked below, one will see that psychiatrists were also engaged in some pretty strange abusive stuff;\.

Testimony from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as part of Military Commissions

Q. Now, as a result of your experience with her, have you met with any other psychologist or psychiatrists?

A. The two after her that they -- I met with them because they forced -- they came to my cell and forced cell extractions and take me medical room. They met with me and talked with me, but I didn't request to talk with them at all because I didn't have issue.
Testimony 6

Witnessing Guantanamo: Transcription of Adel Hamad's Interview

Interviewer: Amy Goodman
Interviewee: Adel Hamad
Interpreter: Isma’il Kushkush
Date of interview: 31 May 2008

AG: Did you ever meet a doctor or a psychologist at Guantanamo?

AH: There were many psychologists, and they are the ones that caused mental illness for us because they don't use them as psychologists, but to destroy our spirits.

AG: Can you give an example, and did you ever learn anyone's name?

AH: An example -- a colleague was suffering from a headache, so we told the authorities that, "This person has a severe headache." So the psychologists came and told him that, "Are you suffering from sleep deprivation? Are you seeing things?" So the psychologists were the first doctors to come to the prisoners. But the normal doctor would not come that easily. So they would say things like, "You were possessed," but we would say that these guys are not possessed, but the doctors are the ones that are possessed.

AG: Did you remember any doctor's name?

AH: They have no names. Not the doctors or the interrogators, they have borrowed names. They have numbers.

AG: Did they have any name on their uniform?

AH: They had a military uniform. It would say "Doctor" and, with a number. And the military rank.
Testimony 7

An Interview With Former Guantanamo Detainee David Hicks
By Jason Leopold

February 16, 2011
TO: Did you ever meet separately with a psychologist or psychiatrist when at Guantanamo, for ostensibly psychological reasons, either a psychological test or assessment, or for supposed treatment of any sort?

DH: No, but they did approach me occasionally during the last year or so I spent in GTMO to see if I would talk and cooperate. Apart from their contributions in interrogations they were always lurking in the background, waiting to "help a detainee," but to really act as another prong to interrogation. If a detainee even whispered for such medical intervention a "mental health expert," would appear with a pocket of unknown medication and a long list of probing questions. They were not there to help, but to harm. We knew this and so I always refused to speak with them when they offered. If I did speak with them, such as the period when I eventually, after two years, had limited access to a lawyer for example, the questions would have been centered on how I intended to defend myself and any court actions I was considering. All they wanted was information, or to find a new way to defeat you.

TO: Were psychologists and/or medical professionals present at all interrogations? Were the interrogations ever stopped to check your heart rate and/or pulse?

DH: The major physical beatings I endured occurred in Afghanistan, during transportation and en-route to GTMO. During those sessions, one was around 10 hours, my vital signs were checked often. In GTMO medical personnel were not in the same room as me during actual interrogations but from my understanding they were monitoring my interrogations from behind the one way glass in Camp Delta. For other detainees, such as those being shocked or water boarded, medical personnel were present, or if drugs were being administrated during interrogation as I describe in my book when they extracted false confessions from one of the UK detainees. They were present when I was injected in the spine, but that experience is one that I don't like to talk about.
I credit the great resource of The Guantanamo Testimonials Project at Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas, headed by Prof. Alermindo Ojeda, for my ability to quickly find relevant information on the detainee testimonies.

Please feel free to reproduce and post this article. I only ask that a link be provided back to this original post. - Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D.

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