Saturday, June 9, 2007

Some Saturday Reading

Here are a few items to check out:

First, read the open letter to the American Psychological Association's president signed by over 40 psychologists. A few clips:

It is now indisputable that psychologists and psychology were directly and officially responsible for the development and migration of abusive interrogation techniques, techniques which the International Committee of the Red Cross has labeled “tantamount to torture.” Reports of psychologists’ (along with other health professionals’) participation in abusive interrogations surfaced more than two years ago.

While other health professional associations expressed dismay when it was reported that their members had participated in these abuses and took principled stands against their members’ direct participation in interrogations, the APA undertook a campaign to support such involvement. In 2005, APA President Ron Levant created the PENS Task Force to assess the ethics of such participation. Six of the nine voting psychologist members selected for the task force were uniformed and civilian personnel from military and intelligence agencies, most with direct connections to national security interrogations. Perhaps most problematic, it is clear from the OIG Report that three of the PENS members were directly in the chain of command translating SERE techniques into harsh interrogation tactics. Although we cannot know exactly what each of these individuals did, their presence in the chain of command is troubling.

[snip]

Not surprisingly, given its membership, the PENS Task Force report concluded that “[i]t is consistent with the APA Code of Ethics for psychologists to serve in consultative roles to interrogation and information-gathering processes for national security-related purposes….” The Task Force report further echoed the Department of Defense cover story for employing BSCT psychologists: “While engaging in such consultative and advisory roles entails a delicate balance of ethical considerations, doing so puts psychologists in a unique position to assist in ensuring that such processes are safe and ethical for all participants.”

Since the release of the PENS report, numerous articles in the press have documented that psychologists at Guantánamo and elsewhere have utilized abusive SERE techniques on detainees. (Jane Meyer’s New Yorker article appeared one week after the PENS report.) All the while, the APA leadership has ignored the mounting evidence to the contrary and reiterated this flawed PENS premise, as you yourself did in response to such an article in the Washington Monthly: “[t]he Association’s position is rooted in our belief that having psychologists consult with interrogation teams makes an important contribution toward keeping interrogations safe and ethical.”

Every report of horrific abuses occurring at Guantánamo and elsewhere has not only cast doubt upon this basic premise of APA policy, these reports have repeatedly highlighted psychologists’ abuse of psychological knowledge for purposes of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Yet the APA has never made any public attempt to investigate such reports. Even if certain psychologists attempted to “keep interrogations safe and ethical,” the OIG report demonstrates once and for all that BSCT and SERE psychologists, among others, were responsible for the development, migration, and perpetration of abuses.

It is time for the APA to acknowledge that the central premise of its years-long policy of condoning and encouraging psychologist participation in interrogations is wrong. It has now been revealed by the DoD itself that, rather than assuring safety, psychologists were central to the abuse. This remains true even if some psychologists made efforts to reduce such harm during their involvement in these interrogation contexts at some point in time. It is critical that APA take immediate steps to remedy the damage done to the reputation of the organization, to our ethical standards, to the field of psychology, and to human rights in this age where they are under concerted attack.
See also Mark Benjamin's latest article, The CIA's Favorite Form of Torture. Some excerpts:

If waterboarding goes the way of the Iron Maiden, what "tough" techniques will the CIA use on its high-value detainees?

The answer is most likely a measure long favored by the CIA -- sensory deprivation. The benign-sounding form of psychological coercion has been considered effective for most of the life of the agency, and its slippery definition might allow it to squeeze through loopholes in a law that seeks to ban prisoner abuse. Interviews with former CIA officials and experts on interrogation suggest that it is an obvious choice for interrogators newly constrained by law. The technique has already been employed during the "war on terror," and, Salon has learned, was apparently used on 14 high-value detainees now held at Guantánamo Bay.

A former top CIA official predicted to Salon that sensory deprivation would remain available to the agency as an interrogation tool in the future. "I'd be surprised if [sensory deprivation] came out of the toolbox," said A.B. Krongard, who was the No. 3 official at the CIA until late 2004. Alfred McCoy, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has written extensively about the history of CIA interrogation, agrees with Krongard that the CIA will continue to employ sensory deprivation. "Of course they will," predicted McCoy. "It is embedded in the doctrine." For the CIA to stop using sensory deprivation, McCoy says, "The leopard would have to change his spots." And he warned that a practice that may sound innocuous to some was sharpened by the agency over the years into a horrifying torture technique.

Sensory deprivation, as CIA research and other agency interrogation materials demonstrate, is a remarkably simple concept. It can be inflicted by immobilizing individuals in small, soundproof rooms and fitting them with blacked-out goggles and earmuffs. "The first thing that happens is extraordinary hallucinations akin to mescaline," explained McCoy. "I mean extreme hallucinations" of sight and sound. It is followed, in some cases within just two days, by what McCoy called a "breakdown akin to psychosis."

[snip]

But the CIA's reliance on sensory deprivation goes all the way back to the early days of the Cold War. It is a big part of the CIA's 1963 "KUBARK" interrogation manual, obtained in 1997 by the Baltimore Sun. That agency manual describes sensory deprivation as a central tenet of coercive interrogations. For particularly rapid results, the manual endorses the use of a "cell which has no light (or weak artificial light which never varies), which is sound-proofed, in which odors are eliminated, etc." Following that plan, the manual says, "induces stress; the stress becomes unbearable for most subjects." The manual adds, "The subject has a growing need for physical and social stimuli; and some subjects progressively lose touch with reality, focus inwardly, and produce delusions, hallucinations, and other pathological effects."

As proof, the KUBARK manual refers to a raft of CIA-sponsored Cold War research on sensory deprivation, including studies at McGill University in Montreal and the National Institute of Mental Health. Subjects in that research were placed in isolated water tanks or confined to silent rooms on soft mattresses, wearing blacked-out goggles and earmuffs. In one study, subjects experienced "visual imagery somewhat resembling hallucinations" within three hours. In another study, only 6 of 17 subjects could last 36 hours on a mattress in a quiet tank that prohibited movement. The stress is described in the KUBARK manual as "unbearable."

The dark world of CIA-sponsored sensory deprivation research is plumbed in depth in the book "A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation From the Cold War to the War on Terror," written by McCoy. "They've been doing this for 50 years," McCoy explained. His book discusses more CIA-sponsored research at McGill by Dr. Donald O. Hebb, who during the same era placed 22 college students in small, sound-proof cubicles, wearing translucent goggles, thick gloves and a U-shaped pillow around the head. Most subjects quit within two days and all experienced hallucinations and "deterioration in the capacity to think systematically."

The theory behind the CIA's fascination with sensory deprivation, McCoy said, is that subjects are so starved for stimulation that they will even crave interaction with their interrogator. "The idea is that they break down and then they cling to the interrogator, because you are hungry for stimulus," McCoy explained.

And of course, Report Gives Details on CIA Prisons:
The CIA exploited NATO military agreements to help it run secret prisons in Poland and Romania where alleged terrorists were held in solitary confinement for months, shackled and subjected to other mental and physical torture, according to a European investigative report released here Friday.

Some of the United States' highest-profile terrorism suspects, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, considered the prime organizer of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, were detained and interrogated at the facility in Poland, according to the 72-page report completed for the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights agency.

Dick Marty, a Swiss lawyer hired by the council, said the CIA conducted "clandestine operations under the NATO framework," providing military intelligence agencies in member countries -- including Poland and Romania -- the cover to assist the agency in disguising the use of secret flights, operations and detention facilities from the days immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks until the fall of last year.

[snip]

The report was also critical of European governments for having allowed the prisons or the transport of prisoners through their airspace. Many did not cooperate with the investigation, the report said, nor did NATO or the United States.

Investigators relied primarily on sources they did not identify in the report, but Marty said they spoke to more than 30 serving or retired members of intelligence services in the United States and Europe as well as civilians performing contract work for intelligence agencies.

The report provided new details about the CIA's purported methods of operation, detention tactics and detainees in the secret facilities. The report said evidence indicated that in order to bypass civilian authorities the CIA used emergency provisions approved by the NATO alliance after the Sept. 11 attacks to partner with European military and intelligence agencies.

"The CIA's clandestine operations in Europe -- including its transfers and secret detentions of HVDs [high-value detainees] -- were sustained and kept secret only through their operational dependence on alliances and partnerships in what is more traditionally the military sphere," the report said.

[snip]

The report went on to describe conditions in the CIA secret detention cells, based on interviews with "former or current detainees, human rights advocates, or people who have worked in the establishment or operations of CIA secret prisons." The report said the descriptions were not based on a single prisoner or cell, but on a compilation of accounts. It did not specify which country's prison was being described.

According to those accounts, detainees were often kept naked in their cells for several weeks and endured up to four consecutive months of "solitary confinement and extreme sensory deprivation in cramped cells, shackled and handcuffed at all times." Temperatures in the cells were often kept at extreme levels: "sometimes so hot one would gasp for breath, sometimes freezing cold."

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