Thursday, June 28, 2007

Supreme Court Strangles Brown

The Brown in question here is Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case that struck down legal segregation in U.S. schools. The decision also laid the basis for a series of other court cases (notably the second Brown case in 1955) and laws meant to advance social policy to reverse segregation and other discriminatory practices in society "with all deliberate speed".

Today, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 decision has ended the integration plans of two school districts in Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle, Washington. In a separate opinion, SCOTUS Judge Kennedy left open the door for the use of racial criteria in some limited amount of cases. I'm not sure what the criteria for such is, but it didn't stop Kennedy from joining the conservative wing of the court in throwing out the integration plans of the above school disticts.

According to the New York Times account:

While [Chief Justice] Roberts said the court was being faithful to the Brown decision, Justice John Paul Stevens in a separate dissent called the chief justice's reliance on Brown to rule against integration "a cruel irony."

A demonstration of the twisted logic of the majority -- really a rehash of the old "reverse discrimination" argument of the 60s and 70s -- is demonstrated by this quote from the majority (brought to my attention in the excellent diary by The Maven over at Daily Kos):

Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin. The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again—even for very different reasons. For schools that never segregated on the basis of race, such as Seattle, or that have removed the vestiges of past segregation, such as Jefferson County, the way "to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis," Brown II, 349 U.S., at 300-301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

Justice Breyer replied to this travesty of justice and logical thinking in his dissenting opinion(again, thanks to The Maven):

Finally, what of the hope and promise of Brown? For much of this Nation's history, the races remained divided. It was not long ago that people of different races drank from separate fountains, rode on separate buses, and studied in separate schools. In this Court's finest hour, Brown v. Board of Education challenged this history and helped to change it. For Brown held out a promise. It was a promise embodied in three Amendments designed to make citizens of slaves. It was the promise of true racial equality--not as a matter of fine words on paper, but as a matter of everyday life in the Nation's cities and schools. It was about the nature of a democracy that must work for all Americans. It sought one law, one Nation, one people, not simply as a matter of legal principle but in terms of how we actually live....

The last half-century has witnessed great strides toward racial equality, but we have not yet realized the promise of Brown. To invalidate the plans under review is to threaten the promise of Brown. The plurality's position, I fear, would break that promise. This is a decision that the Court and the Nation will come to regret.

I must dissent.

Historically, Brown has been under attack by the conservative members of the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas, in Missouri v. Jenkins (1995) espoused black separatist language, which really only amounts to separate but equal ideology: the harm that it identified was tied purely to de jure segregation, not de facto segregation....

Given that desegregation has not produced the predicted leaps forward in black educational achievement, there is no reason to think that black students cannot learn as well when surrounded by members of their own race as when they are in an integrated environment.

Contrast that with Justice Warren's language from the original Brown case:

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

The court opinions from today are available online at this link.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Torture Awareness Day

James Benjamin has a good series of links up at his blog, showing where to go to get more information on the history and use of torture. The reason: yesterday was Torture Awareness Day. (Okay, I'm a day late, but better late than never.)

Recently, the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition International (TASSC) has designated the month of June 2007 as Torture Awareness Month. Yesterday, Monday, June 26 was the U.N. International Day in Support of Torture Victims and Survivors.

The following is from the U.N. press release:

This year’s observance of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture also marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, one of the largest humanitarian funds in the United Nations.

To mark the day, Louise Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Dr. Jose Quiroga, Medical Director, Programe for Torture Victims in Los Angeles, California, will hold a press conference at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, 26 June in Room III to launch the book Rebuilding Lives, which presents the experiences of torture survivors and the efforts of those who work to rehabilitate them.

Rebuilding Lives - available in English, French and Spanish - focuses on the work of the Fund and the efforts of the non-governmental organizations it has supported over the past twenty-five years to assist and rehabilitate victims of torture. The book includes five illustrated articles on current victim support projects in Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Pakistan and Rwanda, contributed by both local and foreign journalists and photographers.

Excerpts from the book:

“Mustafa worked at the Coca-Cola plant on the outskirts of Sarajevo before the war broke out. He and his neighbours were held in a school, a garage, a sports hall and an army barracks. They were tortured, including through sexual abuse. They beat us with everything they had: rifles, metal bars and small sacks of bullets. Sometimes I feel the pain today in my legs and knees.” – Bosnia and Herzegovina

“Marie, now a 34-year–old mother of two, fell into the hands of the Interahamwe in western Rwanda. Each day, as the sun turns its back on Rwanda, Marie’s memories return…she is plagued by debilitating stomach pains and headaches. She still hears the drone of the transistor radio messages of the Hutu militia calling for violence. Over a period of three months, she was repeatedly raped by five contemptuous, brutal and insolent Interahamwe.” – Rwanda

“One night in 1996, while living in Kabul, Haider was dragged from his house by representatives of the Taliban and held prisoner on the grounds that he was Tajik and an alleged communist. After nearly two months of severe beatings and torture, he was taken to a hospital …Haider would walk on his toes, since it was too painful for him to place his soles on the floor. There was numbness in his calves, his muscles were weak and his kidneys were damaged.” – Pakistan

“I was tied up and blindfolded. When an official took the blindfold away…I saw Luis, my boyfriend. He and four other friends were hanging from a beam, with their arms wide open and their hands tied. They each looked like Christ, hanging on the cross. In front of them, the soldiers stripped me and they raped me.” – Chile

“One of the attractions of resettlement in Australia is that it is remote from the origins of the victims’ trauma. On the other hand, the distance means that they are separated from the support of family members and friends. Many victims consequently feel isolated and overwhelmed by the daunting task of rebuilding their lives.” – Australia

The book also examines the legal and medical definitions of torture, how and why it happens, the impact it has on victims, what makes torture different from other human rights violations, as well as ways in which it can be effectively treated and combated.

Please take time out today to educate yourself more about this abomination that remains part of human civilization. Donate to your favorite organization fighting torture, or show support for those individuals and blogs that are trying to publicize this struggle.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Torture Wars: Dispatch from the Front

So much is happening right now in the battle to stop U.S. torture that it is hard to get a handle on things. The Washington Post has an important new article out on how Cheney and his office have been pushing coercive interrogation policy since at least January 2002. Meanwhile, Mark Benjamin over at has another important article on CIA and Pentagon collaboration on torture techniques at Guantanamo and elsewhere. This latter article touches upon the links between the military's SERE program and alleged use of psychologists in implementing torture and/or abusive interrogation techniques at U.S. military and secret CIA prisons abroad.

Meanwhile, one major battle front in the struggle to end torture centers around a proposition by an opposition within the American Psychological Association (APA) to enact a moratorium on psychologist participation in national security interrogations because of the abundant evidence accrued that shows torture and abusive interrogations in such settings, as well as the participation of military and/or CIA psychologists in the planning or implementation of such abuse.

A Sally by the Opposition: Issuance of an Open Letter

This campaign has heated up significantly since the declassification of an Army Inspector General report detailing instances of detainee abuse, and explaining some of the relations between the SERE program and Behavioral Consultant Consultation Teams (BSCTs) at Guantanamo prison, where hundreds of detainees are held in isolation and with no recourse to habeas corpus. These revelations led to the drafting of an Open Letter to the APA president by moratorium proponents, which has now been signed by around 500 psychologists. Physicians for Human Rights has similarly written to the APA. These organizations are asking for a change in APA policy, supporting the moratorium position and calling for investigations into past APA policies and commissions.

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....

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 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.

As could be expected -- after all, we are talking about a major component of the U.S. state apparatus, meaning it's ability to control and interrogate, even torture, the prisoners it holds -- a backlash has taken shape over the campaign to stop psychologist participation in torture. Its vanguard are the military psychologists. Michael Gelles began this, with a letter he wrote defending APA policy and the general role of psychologists at interrogations, whose letter I both quote and deconstruct in an older posting on this blog.

A Military Psychologist Returns Fire

Now, Colonel Larry James, a member of an APA task force that last year came up with a recommendation that psychologists participate in the "war on terror" interrogations, has called foul for being named in the Open Letter referenced above.

I strongly object to, have never used, and will never use torture, cruel, or abusive treatment or punishment of any kind, for any reason, in any setting....

I do not use nor have I ever used ‘SERE’ techniques in any aspect of my work related to interrogations. Dr. Morgan Banks has emphasized repeatedly that in addition to being unethical, using a ‘SERE’ approach in an interrogation would be counterproductive to obtaining useful information. I strongly suspect that using a ‘SERE’ approach to an interrogation would yield data worthless for investigative and destructive for adjudicatory purposes.

What's very strange is that no one ever accused Colonel James, a psychologist who was the Chief Psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantanamo, Cuba in 2003, and Director of the Behavioral Science Unit, Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004, of ever using any torture or cruel and unusual and abusive treatment or punishment himself.

As the authors of the Open Letter wrote in reply to Col. James's strenuous protest:

To be clear, the Open Letter simply reproduces information that has long been on the public record. Principally, we drew upon the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General [OIG] revelations that BSCT psychologists were involved in SERE-based interrogation methods at Guantánamo, and on other government documents, that Colonel James, reporting to Major General Geoffrey Miller, had command responsibility for the BSCTs during the period documented in the OIG’s report (Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse).

These facts, which Colonel James did not refute in his letter, raise serious and valid questions about the role of psychology and psychologists in abusive interrogations.... It would indeed be irresponsible for those of us in the APA to leave these and many other questions unanswered. As the open letter acknowledges, we do not know precisely what role(s) Colonel James or other military/intelligence psychologists played in the abusive interrogation regime documented by numerous sources over the past half decade, and which, we cannot emphasize enough, have now been definitively confirmed by the Department of Defense’s own Inspector General based on years of internal Pentagon investigations.

Military Defenders Circle the Wagons

Despite such clear words and intentions, allies of Col. James and other military psychologists within APA have taken up the cudgels for their embattled brethren. An ex-APA president has taken the Open Letter authors to task, as more likely all associated with the battle against pro-interrogation forces, for not following internal APA procedures for confronting unethical members and then filing charges with appropriate APA bodies. This ex-president -- and I will not give his name, nor quote directly from his email, for reasons soon to be obvious -- is critical of those who make charges on the Internet and private listservs, and reminds his opponents that legal charges could be brought against them for making defamatory remarks about individuals.

Except... no defamatory remarks have been made!

But this offensive by an APA bigwig is not the only evidence of backlash. Leaders of APA's Division 45, the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues, has run to James's defense, deriding criticisms of their colleague, and assuring their readers that APAs policies are actually making things safer and less abusive in the world of military interrogations. I guess Division 45 leadership never read the AP article last March reporting the International Red Cross's conclusion as of at least late 2006, Guantanamo detainees were still being held "under highly abusive conditions".

What is one to make of all this?

Stop Torture Interrogations Now!

There are other matters pressing upon the overall situation outlined above. Not least was the recent White House tease about closing Guantanamo outright, which was was gone over with a fine-tooth comb over at Unbossed. Then you could add in the prospect of Senate hearings on the SERE-psychologist-Guantanamo torture links, and the revelation that the CIA is about to declassify its "crown jewels" -- years of documents on dirty tricks, illegal activities, and the like -- and you have a veritable political tsunami threatening to sweep away the political landscape as we know it.

Will this mean movement at last on impeachment hearings for Cheney, Gonzales, and Bush? Will this mean organizations like the APA are about to see decades-long modus operandi shattered by constituent upheaval? One thing is for sure: the use of torture by a supposedly free society has acted like an acid on all political institutions and relationships. The battle has been engaged, and in war it's always difficult to foresee the outcome.

By the way, if you are a psychologist and reading this, don't forget to go over to this website to read the complete text of the Open Letter to the APA President and to become an official signatory of this important document.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Washington Post: CIA to Release Long Classified Records

The Washington Post has a major article on CIA abuse over the past 60 years, following the news that the CIA plans to release hundreds of documents next week. These documents apparently will fill in many gaps in our knowledge of CIA surveillance of U.S. protest groups, on CIA use of drug experimentation on unwitting victims, on break-ins, wiretapping, theft, and monitoring of journalists, congressmen, and much more. The story is written by Karen DeYoung and Walter Pincus.

A small preview:

The documents, to be publicly released next week, also include accounts of break-ins and theft, the agency's opening of private mail to and from China and the Soviet Union, wiretaps and surveillance of journalists, and a series of "unwitting" tests on U.S. civilians, including the use of drugs....

In anticipation of the CIA's release, the National Security Archive at George Washington University yesterday published a separate set of documents from January 1975 detailing internal government deliberations of the abuses. Those documents portray a rising sense of panic within the administration of President Gerald R. Ford that what then-CIA Director William E. Colby called "skeletons" in the CIA's closet had begun to be revealed in news accounts.

Kissinger warned that if other operations were divulged, "blood will flow. For example, Robert Kennedy personally managed the operation on the assassination of [Cuban President Fidel] Castro"....

Worried that the disclosures could lead to criminal prosecutions, Kissinger added that "when the FBI has a hunting license into the CIA, this could end up worse for the country than Watergate," the scandal that led to the fall of the Nixon administration the previous year.

This should be a very interesting upcoming week. Meanwhile, AP is reporting that the U.S. is seriously considering closing down the Guantanamo gulag. Here's a link to that story, but it's from Yahoo News and those links seem to disappear after awhile. Sorry, only source I have right now.

To make up for it, here's a link to the National Security Archive, a wonderful site, who will be apparently hosting many of these released documents. They also have already the document where Kissinger warns Ford noted above. And this link goes to a PDF of the 6 page summary that supposedly reveals the CIA's top "skeltons", as of the mid-1970s. (God knows there are many new skeletons being born in the creepy basement rooms of 21st century Foggy Bottom.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Psychologists: Sign the Open Letter to APA President Brehm -- Change Course on APA Interrogation Policy Now!

An open letter signed by a number of American Psychological Association (APA) psychologists has been posted online, and interested psychologists can click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph to add their name to the over 200 psychologists who have already endorsed this important statement. There's also a place to leave your own comment!

What follows is a truncated version of the letter. Psychologists, please go to the site to read the entire thing, and sign the letter (I believe the creators of the letter are only looking for psychologists, as the aim is to pressure the APA leadership from their own constituency).

Dear President Brehm:

We write you as psychologists concerned about the participation of our profession in abusive interrogations of national security detainees at Guantánamo, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the so-called CIA "black sites."

Our profession is founded on the fundamental ethical principle, enshrined as Principle A in our Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct: "Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm." Irrefutable evidence now shows that psychologists participating in national security interrogations have systematically violated this principle. A recently declassified August 2006 report by the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General (OIG) –Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse-describes in detail how psychologists from the military's Survival, Evasion Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program were instructed to apply their expertise in abusive interrogation techniques to interrogations being conducted by the DoD throughout all three theaters of the War on Terror (Guantánamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq)....

The OIG report details a number of trainings and consultations provided by SERE psychologists to psychologists and other personnel involved in interrogations, including those on the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT), generally composed of and headed by psychologists. The OIG confirms repeated press accounts over the last two years that SERE techniques were "reverse engineered" by SERE psychologists in consultation with the BSCT psychologists and others, to develop and standardize a regime of psychological torture used by interrogators at Guantánamo, and in Iraq and Afghanistan....

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....

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....

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.

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....The following steps will begin the process of correcting this egregious error by the organization and its leadership. We urgently recommend that:

1. The President of the APA acknowledge errors and abuses and chart a new direction re-emphasizing human rights. In light of the recent revelations, you, as President of the APA, should issue a clear public statement that acknowledges the errors made by APA, in both policy and public statements, and abuses perpetrated by psychologists; you should call on the association to go in a new direction, giving primary emphasis to human rights concerns in forging policy around ethics and national security.

2. The APA Board of Directors and Ethics Committee endorse the APA Moratorium on psychologist participation in interrogations of foreign detainees. It is critical to immediately disengage psychologists from any direct or supervisory participation in interrogations of individual detainees. Such a step would do much to bring the APA in line with the positions adopted some time ago by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Nurses Association. Thus, the APA leadership should support and the Council of Representatives must, at the August Convention, pass the Moratorium on Psychologist Involvement in Interrogations at US Detention Centers for Foreign Detainees proposed by Dr. Neil Altman and scheduled for a vote at Council.

3. The APA Board of Directors encourage, support, and cooperate with the Senate investigations of detainee treatment. It is essential that the APA support and cooperate fully with the announced investigation of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) into the role of SERE in the creation of abusive interrogation strategies, as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee's announced investigation into the CIA's handling of detainees in their custody. In fact, the APA Board of Directors should do what it can to expedite this and other external, non-partisan investigations of all localities that utilize BSCT psychologists.

4. The APA Board of Directors commence a neutral third-party investigation of its own involvement, and that of APA staff, in APA-military conflicts of interest. It is essential that the APA membership and the concerned public develop an in-depth understanding of how and why the APA accepted a rationale for psychologist involvement in interrogations that has been revealed to have been advanced by involved psychologists, and which permitted their continued participation and supervision of abusive interrogation processes. The concept of "legal, ethical, safe, and effective" has been exposed as a euphemism for psychologist oversight of abuse; these activities can only be considered "ethical" because the APA Ethics Code (Standard 1.02) was rewritten in 2002 to define complying with any law or military regulation as "ethical"....

To fail to act now would be to continue an organizational policy that maintains and protects psychologists' roles as the architects of what can only be interpreted as a torture paradigm; one that has intentionally violated the Geneva Conventions, our nation's values, and our professional ethics.

Interested readers might also want to check out this fact sheet: Q&A: How the Pentagon’s Inspector General Report Contradicts What the APA Has Said About the Involvement of Psychologists in Abusive Interrogations

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"American culture has mostly become one vast infomercial"

Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, gave a very interesting commencement speech at Stanford University last weekend. I think it is worth reading, and I've excerpted the sections that I think were most pointed below:

Everything now is entertainment. And the purpose of this omnipresent commercial entertainment is to sell us something. American culture has mostly become one vast infomercial.

I have a reccurring nightmare. I am in Rome visiting the Sistine Chapel. I look up at Michelangelo's incomparable fresco of the "Creation of Man." I see God stretching out his arm to touch the reclining Adam's finger. And then I notice in the other hand Adam is holding a Diet Pepsi.

When was the last time you have seen a featured guest on David Letterman or Jay Leno who isn't trying to sell you something? A new movie, a new TV show, a new book, or a new vote?

Don't get me wrong. I love entertainment, and I love the free market. I have a Stanford MBA and spent 15 years in the food industry. I adore my big-screen TV. The productivity and efficiency of the free market is beyond dispute. It has created a society of unprecedented prosperity.

But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing—it puts a price on everything.

The role of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us....

Why do these issues matter to you? This is the culture you are about to enter. For the last few years you have had the privilege of being at one of the world's greatest universities—not only studying, but being a part of a community that takes arts and ideas seriously. Even if you spent most of your free time watching Grey's Anatomy, playing Guitar Hero, or Facebooking your friends, those important endeavors were balanced by courses and conversations about literature, politics, technology, and ideas.

Distinguished graduates, your support system is about to end. And you now face the choice of whether you want to be a passive consumer or an active citizen. Do you want to watch the world on a screen or live in it so meaningfully that you change it?

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, I'm not so sure the students got or were worthy of his message:

David Ollison, graduating with a degree in economics, plans to go on to law school. He said he is decidedly a "left-brain guy." While trying to keep a female blow-up doll named Francesca perched on his shoulders, he said that his primary interest is making money.

Besides, he laughed, "I'm a pop-culture whore."

A group of guys dressed in various animal outfits debated the issue of whether culture is bankrupt.

"You choose your own path in life," mused Zach Henick. "If you want to go into arts, go into arts. I'm pursuing economics."

His friend Jay Rubenstein, wearing camel ears, paused to proclaim, "Society sleeps in a bed of pigs." He added that the quote is his own.

"I think culture has to be what you make of it," he said. "For me, my culture is sports." He plans to work in energy trading and has a job lined up at Morgan Stanley.

Who would have thought that American triumphalism in the Cold War would lead to an insane, illegal war abroad and mindless idiocy at home? Who would have anticipated that we would have a national leadership that hates complexity, speaks neologisms, and simply honestly can't think. These aspects to U.S. society have been there all along, but now they are trumpeted with pride and anti-intellectual hubris. In the end, the pathetic farce of American society has its poets and artists begging the top tier of American academia not to be airheads and dopes. These days, who's smarter than a fifth grader anyway?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Insider Politics of the Torture Chamber

In a blockbuster article by Seymour Hersh over at The New Yorker, "The General's Report," two-star general Antonia Taguba describes how he came to write the first report investigating the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. Taguba describes how he was shunned and ultimately forced to retire because he tried to be honest in his report. Most stories reporting on Hersh's article have not focused on the aspect that concerns how the CIA and military special operations forces both collaborated and contested over the issue of coercive interrogations. I want to look more in depth at that.

A Washington Post article summarized well Taguba's charges:

In interviews with New Yorker reporter Seymour M. Hersh, Taguba said that he was ordered to limit his investigation to low-ranking soldiers who were photographed with the detainees and the soldiers' unit, but that it was always his sense that the abuse was ordered at higher levels. Taguba was quoted as saying that he thinks top commanders in Iraq had extensive knowledge of the aggressive interrogation techniques that mirrored those used on high-value detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the military police "were literally being exploited by the military interrogators."

Reading Hersh's article myself, I was struck by the opaque quality that characterized the interactions between military intelligence, the Pentagon command structure and the CIA. We have some sense of how part of this worked by reading the recent Office of Inspector General report on detainee abuse, which describes how Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) military personnel, including psychologists, were used in training Guantánamo interrogators in coercive techniques.

What Hersh's article adds is a sense of how CIA personnel and higher-ups viewed the usurption of "higher-level" prisoners for interrogation by "special operations units", including possibly -- though Taguba doesn't say this -- by contractors. (The latter is a huge and controversial aspect of the Abu Ghraib story, and was addressed in the original Taguba report. For more information on this, please reference an excellent UK Guardian story from 2004.)

White House preempts civilian/military chain of command

According to Hersh, the CIA, even while "cooperating" with military special ops, were critical. They may (or may not) have had differences with the SERE-type torture being implemented, but CIA wanted some legal reassurances "before aggressively interrogating high-value targets". The CIA operates under presidential mandate, and is used to getting formal findings to legitmate their actions, with such findings communicated officially to the senior leadership of the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees. But this wasn't happening, because the White House refused to follow legal protocol and issue the findings, at least for awhile. When they finally did, a number of countries were said to become "free-fire zones" for the CIA. The Company was also given carte blanche to conduct its secret prison program.

I wish Hersh would have expanded this portion of his article, because it's unclear what finally happened with the CIA, who now awaits a new set of findings from the President on how to conduct interrogations. Evidently, Hersh couldn't get the full story here, or the evidence was contradictory. You'll see this as you read the article.

To get a flavor of what Taguba was up against, as he encountered the web of interrogator politics at Abu Ghraib, consider the case of Lieutenant Colonel Steven L. Jordan, whom assorted MPs had mentioned as involved with the detainees. Jordan is also the only officer to be charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal, adn is to go on trial this summer.

From Hersh's article:

For the first three weeks of the investigation, Jordan was nowhere to be found, despite repeated requests. When the investigators finally located him, he asked whether he needed to shave his beard before being interviewed—Taguba suspected that he had been dressing as a civilian. “When I asked him about his assignment, he says, ‘I’m a liaison officer for intelligence from Army headquarters in Iraq.’” But in the course of three or four interviews with Jordan, Taguba said, he began to suspect that the lieutenant colonel had been more intimately involved in the interrogation process -- some of it brutal -- for “high value” detainees....

Taguba said that Jordan’s “record reflected an extensive intelligence background.” He also had reason to believe that Jordan was not reporting through the chain of command. (emphasis mine)

This begs the question: who was Jordan reporting to? Hersh has been telling us for some time that to understand what's happened since 9/11 and in Iraq that we should look to the chain of command. His book on Abu Ghraib is called Chain of Command. At the top of the command structure is the President, as the latter is so fond of telling us. Hersh has some choice words about President Bush:

Whether the President was told about Abu Ghraib in January (when e-mails informed the Pentagon of the seriousness of the abuses and of the existence of photographs) or in March (when Taguba filed his report), Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reëvaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized. Instead, Bush acquiesced in the prosecution of a few lower-level soldiers. The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command....

Taguba went on, “There was no doubt in my mind that this stuff” -- the explicit images -- “was gravitating upward. It was standard operating procedure to assume that this had to go higher. The President had to be aware of this....

"We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values. The stress of combat is not an excuse, and I believe, even today, that those civilian and military leaders responsible should be held accountable.” (emphasis mine)

Taguba doesn't say how they should be held accountable. But we could start with the impeachment of the commander-in-chief and courts martial for all involved in the chain of command. The above should be followed with referral to appropriate bodies for war crimes trials, to begin concurrent with a full withdrawal from Iraq.


I wanted to include here a very useful comment from the Daily Kos thread for this story, by Snarcalita. It's an excellent analysis of what Hersh is reporting, and is often the case, is captured best by one of my readers:

Hersh hints around the SAP or Special Access Program, a highly-classified, compartmentalized operation that seems to have involved, among other things, Spec. Op.s teams operating from US Embassies with a literal license to kill, who formed kidnap teams filling the secret interrogation facilities. It seems the CIA was squeezed out of the covert ops business as a deliberate policy to avoid congressional oversight and covert ops reporting requirements. The Pentagon lawyers concluded that the unitary executive C-in-C could launch op.s to "prepare the battlefield" with no reporting requirements. Since, in a "Global War on Terror" the whole world is the battlefield, they basically seized carte blanche to run their own covert death squads. None of the investigators could be 'read in' to the details of these secret operations, though it seems they tried to indicate that the techniques of sexual humiliation and torture were taught by someone to the MP scapegoats who actually carried them out. It seems no accident that the prison was guarded by untrained National Guard units, rather than professional soldiers who would have known about procedure and their duty to refuse illegal orders and report war crimes.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Physicians for Human Rights Takes on American Psychological Association over Interrogations Issue

(Tip of the hat to Stephen Soldz over at Psyche, Science, and Society for this)

Executive Director Leonard Rubenstein of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has written a letter to Sharon Stephens Brehm, PhD, President of the American Psychological Association (APA), asking her to respond affirmatively to the recent revelations in a Pentagon Office of Inspector General report on detainee abuse. These revelations directly implicated military psychologists from the Pentagon's SERE program in "reverse engineering" POW resistance techniques from its schools for use as abusive interrogation guides and torture at Guantanamo Naval Base prison, and elsewhere.

Mr. Rubenstein's letter further lists a number of abusive practices, asking the APA to abjure 19 different unethical interrogation practices. (At least two of these practices, the use of drugs in interrogation, and the use of sensory bombardment or overload to "overwhelm the senses", have been studied by the APA, in conjunction with the CIA, in only the past three years. See my article on this from a few weeks back.)

In addition, beyond asking for APA to support the currently proposed moratorium on psychologist participation in interrogations, put forth by internal opponents to the current APA policy, PHR is suggesting the following ethical position to guide psychologists in the murky waters of interrogation:

Psychologists do not participate directly in the interrogation of an individual prisoner or detainee. Direct participation includes being present in the interrogation room; asking questions; suggesting questions; providing any advice, consultation, or assistance regarding the use of interrogation techniques with a specific interrogation subject; or monitoring an interrogation for the purpose of offering advice, consultation, evaluation or assistance in the use of techniques with a particular subject.

Psychologists do not offer general advice or training, research, experimentation, facilitation, or any other general assistance, outside the context of an interrogation of a specific subject, regarding use of interrogation methods that are intended to, or that the psychologist has reason to believe will, result in increased levels of psychological distress or harm to the subject.

Many kudos to PHR and its Executive Director, Leonard Rubenstein, for taking on the issue of torture and bringing it to the doorstep of those who participate, and in certain instances, cover or alibi the use of torture and other cruel and inhumane treatment by U.S. military and spy personnel.

Link to original PHR letter in PDF format.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Hamdan Redux: Government Asks Judge to Reconsider Decision

Marty Lederman has an fascinating analysis over at Balkinization regarding the the government's appeal in the recent Hamdan and Khadr cases. The latter concerned the decision by U.S. military judges to dismiss charges against Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen and Omar Khadr of Canada. They were charged as terrorists and labelled "unlawful enemy combatants", and were to be among the first cases to be brought before Bush's kangaroo military commissions. According to AP:

Hamdan's military judge, Navy Capt. Keith Allred, said the detainee is "not subject to this commission" under legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Bush last year.

Now the government is appealing Capt. Allred's decision, and Marty Lederman has read the motion on Hamdan and finds:

The oddest thing about the Hamdan motion, however, is that the government never really gives a persuasive factual account of why Hamdan is an enemy combatant, let alone an "unlawful enemy combatant" as that term is defined in the MCA....

More to the point, as I read it, those alleged facts simply do not establish, as the MCA requires, that Hamdan "purposefuly and materially supported hostilities against the United States."

Go read the entire piece. If you're ambitious you can read the motion on Hamdan, and also the motion on Khadr. (Lederman did not make an analysis of the latter, having not read it yet. But one suspects that much the same non-evidence will be presented there.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Appellate Court Hands Bush Huge Defeat, Releases "Enemy Combatant" Al-Marri

Reuters is reporting (link here is to the Washington Post) that a U.S. appellate court has ruled that Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri must be released from military custody. This is a huge defeat for Bush, as Al-Marri was a test case for Bush's draconian executive powers in the phony "war on terror". The appellate panel ruled 2-1 that there was insufficient evidence to hold Mr. Al-Marri as an "enemy combatant".

Al-Marri was a Quatari student living with his wife and children in Peoria, Illinois. He was in the U.S. legally on a student visa. In December 2001, he was caught up in the post 9/11 dragnet of Arab nationals, and charged with giving false statements to the FBI. He was supposed to be a material witness in the 9/11 attacks. What makes his case unique is what happened next.

A month before Al-Marri's case was to come to trial, in June 2003, the Bush Justice Department swooped down and took the defendent from the criminal system, made the court drop its charges (which it did "with prejudice"), and declared Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri an "enemy combatant". He was taken to the Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina (where Jose Padilla was also held). Like Padilla, he was held without further charges for years.

As Glenn Greenwald describes it:

Al-Marri was given the "Padilla Treatment" -- kept in solitary confinement, denied all contact with the outside world, including even his own attorneys, not charged with any crimes, and given no opportunity to prove his innocence. Instead, the Bush administration simply asserted the right to detain him indefinitely without so much as charging him with anything....

There is no greater betrayal of the core principles of American political life than to have the federal government sweep people off the streets, throw them into a black hole with no contact with the outside world and no charges asserted of any kind, and simply keep them there for as long as the President desires -- in al-Marri's case, with respect to detention, now five years and counting.

Seems the judge of the appellate court hearing al-Marri's appeal agreed with Mr. Greenwald (from the Reuters' report):

"The government cannot subject al-Marri to indefinite military detention. For in the United States, the military cannot seize and imprison civilians -- let alone imprison them indefinitely," Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote. (Emphasis mine)

The ruling does not free Mr. Al-Marri, but it does direct the Secretary of Defense to release him in a "reasonable" period of time. The article notes that the government could choose to criminally charge him (though they can't on the previous charges), initiate deportation hearings, or hold him as part of the Patriot Act for some limited period of time.

Those who wish to follow the legal peregrinations of this legal case, and they are most interesting for the struggles going on within the judicial system over Bush's enemy combatant cases, can read the summary over at Human Rights First, which also has links to the multiple filings in the case.

While not a definitive decision striking down the Bush Administration's warped anti-civil liberties campaign, codified in the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, it is a great victory against the right of an imperial President to intevene in lawful proceedings, seize people in this country lawfully, and put them in military prisons -- not in Afghanistan, Iraq, Poland or Romania -- but in the United States. It was precisely this type of governmental power that was codified in the Military Commissions Act, a law among the most pernicious ever passes in this country.

Every day that goes by that Bush and Cheney and Gonzales and Rice are not impeached is another day that the moral and political reputation of this country sinks into the sewer. I salute the bravery and integrity of the appellate court in ordering the release of the wrongfully held Mr. Al-Marri.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Recent events

The Paris Hilton media spectacle has demonstrated how infused with "reality TV" all of modern culture has become. The spectacle of capitalist television is captured by its lurid mixture of race, sexuality, and a grotesque misrepresentation of a political symbol filtered through exploitative class, race, or gender hatred.

In the 1930s, the playwright/actor Antonin Artaud tried to shake up the theatre world with his incendiary manifesto for a Theatre of Cruelty. Full of bombast, Artaud could land stinging blows upon the hypocrisy of his age.

Without an element of cruelty at the root of every spectacle, the theater is not possible. In our present state of degeneration it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made to re-enter our minds.
Who could have watched even five minutes of the Hilton spectacle and not feel the oracular penetration of Artaud's critical wit?

Friday, June 8, 2007

Calling Attention

While too busy to write up a post myself, I have the pleasure to direct my readers to two very important articles online.

The first is Stephen Soldz's posting of An Open Letter to the President of the APA. Signed by close to 40 psychologists, it is a indictment of the APA's failed policy of endorsing psychologist participation in national security interrogations, which have too often veered into outright torture. Rather than acting as protectors against abuse, some military psychologists have been involved in implementing it.

The second article is by Mark Benjamin over at, "The CIA's favorite form of torture". And what might this favorite form be? Sensory deprivation, which I've written on before. Benjamin argues, persuasively I think, that the CIA is not too worried about losing some of the more controversial methods of coercive interrogation -- such as waterboarding (which was really a SERE technique. The Agency has used sensory deprivation techniques in building up its stock repetoire of psychological torture procedures since at least the days of the KUBARK counterintelligence manual of the early 1960s. For the CIA, sensory deprivation is:

a measure long favored.... [This] 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.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Sec. Gates: Stop SERE-type Torture! Drop Appendix M from Army Field Manual

Also posted at NION

On May 18, the Office of the Inspectory General (OIG) of the Defense Department declassified a report on detainee abuse. This report verified and amplified earlier stories about the reverse engineering of torture techniques by some psychologists who work in the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE, programs. Stephen Soldz wrote a great article on this, which is posted at Never In Our (NION).

Now, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has written a letter to Bush Defense Secretary Robert Gates demanding the following:

1. Fully implement the OIG’s recommendation to “preclude the use of Survival, Evasion, esistance, and Escape physical and psychological coercion techniques” in all interrogations. (Id, p. 29-30.) This includes rescission of Appendix M of the new Army Field Manual and specific prohibition, by name, of each of the known SERE-based methods and their equivalents.

2. Abolish the BSCTs and rescind the June 6, 2006 Department of Defense Instruction(Medical program Support for Detainee Operations), which established guidelines for the BSCTs and other health personnel. Establish new unambigious guidelines holding all health care professionals, regardless of their designated role or assignment, to the well-established health professional principle to prevent, avoid and minimize harm.

3. In the interest of transparency reflected in the declassification of the OIG Report, declassify and release all other documents shedding light on US interrogation policy and practices, including but not limited to SERE-based methods. [Emphases mine]

Pardon me if I can't restrain a yelp of satisfaction. The Pentagon is finally beginning to feel some of the heat it so richly deserves to feel for all the illegal and immoral practices that have passed under its purview these last six years (and really longer).

I take some personal satisfaction as practically alone in the blogosphere, and surely alone against the larger mainstream press, I took on the lies about the cleansing of torture in the 2006 revised Army Field Manual. You can read my original article from last October, with some correspondence I had with PHR at the time on the matter, at this NION link:

New Army Interrogation Manual Promotes Torture/PHR Responds

Besides NION, I also posted versions of this article at Progressive Historians and Daily Kos. I kept up a correspondence on the issue with PHR, and made my political points to others where and when I could. Now PHR has added the need to change the AFM to their campaign against torture, as it has become clearer that the military and intelligence agencies have made a determined effort to spread coercive interrogation techniques throughout all theatres of U.S. military activities.

When interviewed in Time magazine recently, PHR Executive Director Rubenstein reiterated his organization's position. This is from a story at Stephen Soldz's blog, but the original quote can also be found at Time's website:

In response to fallout over the well-documented cases of prisoner abuse — which included prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation (visual and auditory), forced removal of clothing, exploiting prisoners phobias (notably fear of dogs), and threats against family members — the Pentagon began scaling back the use of SERE tactics in 2002 and eventually banned them altogether. The Army Field Manual, which serves as a primary guide for U.S. military interrogation, now specifically rules out the use of a variety of SERE-founded techniques including water-boarding, a form of simulated drowning, as well as the use of dogs.

But critics remain concerned that the Pentagon’s clean-up has not gone far enough. In the letter to Secretary Gates, dated May 31, 2007, the non-profit Physicians for Human Rights cites an appendix of the current Army Field Manual that “explicitly permits what amounts to isolation, along with sleep and sensory deprivation.” The letter, signed by retired Army General Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and former senior medical commander, and Leonard Rubenstein, the organization’s executive director, also points out that the current Field Manual remains “silent on a number of other SERE-based methods (including sensory overload and deprivation) creating ambiguity and doubt over their place in interrogation doctrine.”

Onward to the Senate Investigation

As PHR and others politically pressure the government, Senator Carl Levin (D), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee is preparing for hearings into the use of torture, and more specifically, the utilization of SERE and military psychologists to spread torture from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib to Afghanistan and secret U.S. prisons around the world. It's evident, from this selection of an interview with Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo, a psychologist who worked with an American Pscyhological Association (APA) commission last year into the ethical practice of psychologists in interrogations -- a commission that whitewashed psychologist collaboration with the military and intelligence agencies -- that Sen. Levin has been looking into this issue for some times. Dr. Arrigo, along with others, have gone on record as calling for overturning the recommendations of the APA commission, known by its acronym PENS (the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security), and for a moratorium against psychologist participation in national security interrogations. She is a social psychologist, who founded the Intelligence Ethics Collection at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University; she's also a founder of the International Intelligence Ethics Association.

When the PENS committee met, APA bigwigs, pushed by military psycholgogy protests, made the procedings confidential. This was extraordinary in and of itself. Notes were also forbidden to be taken. Dr. Arrigo fought to get out the truth about the procedings. From her interview at Democracy Now!:

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo, did you archive the entire listserv of the task force and send it to the Senate Armed Services Committee?

DR. JEAN MARIA ARRIGO: Yes, I did. I archived the listserv, my notes and other materials at Stanford in July 2006, and I want to add that I am not a Stanford faculty member. I simply have a relation with the archive. And on April 4th, 2007, I sent the entire listserv and my notes to the Senate Armed Service Committee.

So, Senate oversight has been building since at least early Spring. The APA officially responded to the Democracy Now! interview, which also included psychologist and PENS board member Dr. Nina Thomas, Leonard Rubenstein, executive director of PHR, and Dr. Eric Anders, a psychoanalyst who formerly underwent SERE training. (Obviously the entire interview is a great read and/or listen.)

Renewal of a Call to Action

I have made a call to action to influence the leadership at APA to change course and support that part of the membership that is calling for a moratorium on participation in national security interrogations, which have too often taken place in the torture chamber of SERE and Kubark-style abuse.

As I wrote then, anti-torture psychologists need our help. Moreover, the campaign to stop psychologist invovlement in Bush's interrogations will be a blow against their legitimacy, and hamper the use of coercive interrogations, given the special place behavioral health personnel serve in that process.

How you can help

Write or call the APA:

American Psychological Association, 750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242

(800) 374-2721 or (202) 336-5500

Write and call, now. Let them know how upset you are.

Send an email to the Public Affairs Office of the APA, expressing your outrage:

Phone the Ethics Office directly at (202) 336-5930 or use APA's toll free number (800) 374-2721, extension 5930, and give them a piece of your mind.

And finally, write to the President of the APA, Dr. Sharon Stephens Brehm. Be nice, be polite, but be firm (this is true for ALL communications).

Dr. Brehm has a web page, Ask the President. Follow the link to leave an email message directly for her.

If we apply enough pressure, it might make the APA stand up and take notice. If you are a Daily Kos diarist or front pager, you might want to help and make this fight yours, too. And, don't forget to write your congressman/congresswoman and senator, too!


We don't have to be powerless. We aren't helpless. Write, call, email today. Copy this diary's URL and send it to your friends.

I want to see APA inundated with thousands of messages saying "Stop torture. Stop psychologist participation in coercive interrogations. Support the anti-torture moratorium".

Together, we can prevail.

Where is Jose Padilla on the Night of the Democratic Debate? (Silent enim leges inter arma )

"The law is silent in wartime."

Lewis Z. Koch is doing a fabulous job over at firedoglake with his series coverage of the Padilla trial (and I borrowed the Latin quote from him, via Cicero). Koch reports on the inanity of the government's case, and on the ban on evidence that is keeping much of the truth of Padilla's treatment and torture interrogations from the jury. Now Judge Marcia Cooke has ruled FBI wiretaps will be included as evidence,

rejecting arguments by defense attorneys that phone conversations that mentioned Osama bin Laden were irrelevant and threatened to prejudice the jury.

The government picks and chooses its evidence, doing its best to fob off this phony show trial as the work of an intrepid government on the trail of wrong-doers.

Arrested in May 2002 at O'Hare Airport in Chicago for supposedly plotting to set off a "dirty bomb" for Al Qaeda, small-time ex-hood Jose Padilla, who converted to Islam in jail, is on trial with two others, co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyousi, for vague conspiracy charges of helping Islamic terrorism. Held incommunicado for years at the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, and tortured psychologically with intense isolation, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, forced stress positions, and, according to Mr. Padilla's attorneys, psychoactive drugs, Padilla was transferred from "enemy combatant" status to federal indictee after the Supreme Court delivered their decision in the Hamdan case.

The torture Padilla endured was of the Kubark variety, a CIA interrogation formula that relies on psychological and neuroscientific research done forty to fifty years ago. Sometimes you will hear the press say that the U.S. is applying ex-Soviet or Korean or Chinese torture techniques, but the reality is that, while based on study of those techniques, the U.S., through the CIA, the School of the Americas, and the military's SERE programs, fine-tuned their own style of torture, and then exported it around the world.

I recommend that readers check out Koch's well-written essays on the Padilla trial. I'll try and look at a wide range of coverage and report it back here.

Democrats Speak Out Loudly for Habeas, Against Torture, for Human Rights... Not!

Meanwhile, why link the Padilla case to the Democratic debate? Because, with only a few very brief exceptions, nothing was said about the debasement of both democracy and basic decency by this country's descent into being a militarist, torturing country. (Kucinich may have been a partial exception, and Chris Dodd got in a shot against the Bush war on civil liberties at the very end, with Wolf Blitzer trying to cut him off. I'm sure others will feel I'm unfair to their candidate, and I hope you put their documented positions on militarism and torture in the comments of this piece, for all our sakes.)

Sure, I've both researched and reported that U.S. torture goes back decades. But the difference now is that it's openly debated, voted on, and supported still by the Congress and many public media voices. Bush has made torture into a talking point! and turned the direction of political discourse in this country towards the pre-Enlightenment era, i.e., backwards some two or three hundred years.

And this after the bloody tirades by GOP candidates at their FOX debate, clamoring one over the other (not to mention John McCain's political corpse) to make themselves more to the right than Bush and Gonzales on "rough" interrogations. And no Democrat will say nary a word about a U.S. citizen held without right to a hearing, in isolation, tortured for years, and now placed on a show trial where gag orders keep the jury from even hearing much of the evidence -- because the evidence was educed via torture of both the defendant, and also of the supposed witnesses to the "dirty bomb" plot (like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who no one can believe because of the non-stop torture of the man). Hence, the "dirty bomb" plot, the linchpin of John Ashcroft's pathetic career, was dropped, and is forgotten except by Koch and a handful of bloggers.

The Padilla trial should be getting top coverage across the blogosphere, but aside from Koch's articles at firedoglake, and the work of others, like Jeralyn at TalkLeft, and David Markus at the Southern District of Florida Blog, the case gets precious little coverage.

We should demand the release of Padilla and his co-defendants, victims of Bush's demagogic "war on terror" and pawns in his ambition to turn the United States into a torture nation. We can not afford to be silent. Not in a time of war. Not ever.

Friday, June 1, 2007

"The Task Force Report Should Be Annulled"

Here's a quick link to a Democracy Now! interview of utmost importance to those who are following the fight within the American Psychological Association to stop collaboration with torture and coercive interrogations at America's "war on terror" prisons abroad.

The entire title is ""The Task Force Report Should Be Annulled" - Member of 2005 APA Task Force on Psychologist Participation in Military Interrogations Speaks Out". It's another great interview by national treasure Amy Goodman. Here's the introduction from Democracy Now's website:

In 2005, the American Psychological Association convened a Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security that concluded psychologists' participation in military interrogations was "consistent with the APA Code of Ethics." It was later revealed that six of nine voting members were from the military and intelligence agencies with direct connections to interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere. In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, we speak with two members of the task force, Dr. Jean Maria Arrigo and Dr. Nina Thomas. Arrigo says the task force report "should be annulled," because the process was "flawed." As an example, Arrigo says she was "told very sharply" by one of the military psychologists not to take notes during the proceedings. She later archived the entire listserve of the task force and sent it to Senate Armed Services Committee. Dr. Arrigo also calls for a "moratorium" on psychologists involvement in military interrogations at Guantanamo Bay. We also speak with Dr. Eric Anders, a former Air Force officer who underwent harsh training in "SERE" (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) techniques, as well as Dr. Leonard Rubenstein, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights.

(Tip of the hat to Stephen Soldz for bringing this to our attention.)

"U.S. Building Massive Embassy With Slaves?"

I just saw this. The U.S. is shanghaiing workers from across the Middle East and putting them to work with substandard wages, inadequate food, with raw river water to drink, all to build their bloated imperial palace of an embassy in occupied Baghdad. It seems almost impossible to believe, and yet... Go read the entire article by Maccabee at Daily Kos.

Here's a snippet:

Every US labor law was broken,” says an American labor foreman, John Owens, who adds that he never witnessed a safety meeting. Once an Egyptian worker fell and broke his back and was sent home. No one ever heard from him again. “The accident might not have happened if there was a safety program and he had known how to use a safety harness,” charges Owen, who left the embassy project last June…Owen offers a different take on the workers he supervised. After having worked construction on US embassy sites in Armenia, Bulgaria, Angola, Cameroon and Cambodia, nothing compares to the mess he saw in Baghdad. “I’ve never seen a project more fucked up.”

Bush Justice Department Cripples Immigration Courts (the Goodling Connection)

What do you get when you mix an explosive social issue with a cup of desperation and a fillip of Monica Goodling? The answer is a hell of a mess. And that's a polite way to describe the shambles that has become our immigration and asylum court system.

The New York Times has an important article on the subject in yesterday's paper: Big Disparities in Judging of Asylum Cases. The article dissects a new study being published in the Stanford Law Review, "Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication". The abstract for this study reads, in part:

This study analyzes databases of merits decisions from all four levels of the asylum adjudication process: 133,000 decisions by 884 asylum officers over a seven year period; 140,000 decisions of 225 immigration judges over a four-and-a-half year period; 126,000 decisions of the Board of Immigration Appeals over six years; and 4215 decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeal during 2004 and 2005. The analysis reveals significant disparities in grant rates, even when different adjudicators in the same office each considered large numbers of applications from nationals of the same country....

The cross tabulations show that the chance of winning asylum was strongly affected by whether or not the applicant had legal representation, by the gender of the immigration judge, and by the immigration judge's work experience prior to appointment.

As the NYT article puts it, graphically:
In one of the starker examples cited, Colombians had an 88 percent chance of winning asylum from one judge in the Miami immigration court and a 5 percent chance from another judge in the same court.

But I think the statistic that will interest many readers is one the Times placed in the final sentence of the article.

Immigration judges are appointed by the attorney general, and 49 of 226 current judges were appointed during the tenure of Mr. Gonzales. [emphasis mine]

So, over 20% of the new immigration judges were appointed by Bush-Gonzales's Justice Department. (I don't know how many were appointed during the reign of John Ashcroft.) This is important for two reasons. One, procedural changes in asylum adjudication have given more weight to immigration judges' initial decisions because the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has been eviscerated, with Ashcroft cutting the number of BIA board members from 23 to 11 back in 2002. The result was a “'sudden and lasting decline' in appeals that were favorable to asylum seekers".

But the shadow of the ongoing U.S. attorneys firing scandal hangs over the asylum-immigration issue as well.

The immigration courts have been in the spotlight after Justice Department officials said last week that the investigation of Monica M. Goodling, a former aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, has been expanded to include her role in helping to appoint immigration judges.

Ms. Goodling testified last week that she had “crossed the line” in applying political considerations to candidates for nonpartisan legal jobs. (emphasis mine)

So we see that political cronyism and litmus tests for civil service employees -- like the immigration court justices -- are attempts to foist a one-party system upon the state bureaucracy. The result, as the Stanford Law Review study suggests, is an immigration court system that is riddled with injustice and unfairness.

This study was nothing new to those of us who have followed the vagaries of the immigration courts adjudication of asylum law. (And remember, asylum refugees are those fleeing their countries because of persecution, torture, rape, political oppression, ethnic cleansing and genocide, etc.)

Meanwhile, Seven Long Years Ago

In October 2000, the San Jose Mercury News published a study, which was a

...statistical analysis of the decisions of each Immigration Judge in the U.S. comparing their grant rates on requests for asylum. Using the Freedom of Information Act, they obtained a 1,134-page printout of a table from the Justice Department. DMR Associates of Springfield, Virginia analyzed the data.
The former INS attorney who prints the raw results (see link directly above) cautions against reading too much into the data, but over at VisaLaw, they report the conclusions of the SJ Mercury News analysis.

The study... reveals what many instinctively knew about the asylum process – that whether a person is granted asylum depends less on the merits of the person’s case and more on the judge before whom they present their case. The paper examined 176,465 cases that came before the 219 Immigration Judges between 1995 and 1999.

Some judges granted asylum in half of the cases they heard, while other judges granted asylum in less than two percent of cases. Some judges even routinely deny asylum to applicants from countries such as Bosnia and Somalia, where conditions mean that most applicants are granted asylum....

According to the Mercury News analysis, there was one factor that was key in determining how an Immigration Judge would rule according their legal background. Judges who worked in the private sector before being appointed granted asylum at a 50 percent higher rate than judges who had previously worked for the government. There are twice as many former government lawyers working as Immigration Judges as former private sector attorneys.

Another important factor was the gender of the judge. Ten of the 24 judges most likely to grant asylum were women, while the six judges least likely to grant asylum were men. Only three of the 24 judges least likely to grant asylum were women. The overwhelming majority of Immigration Judges – 72 percent – are men.

You'd think the New York Times would have provided the perspective on the new study from the Mercury News article from seven years ago. Of course, if they did, it would show that little has changed since the sunset months of the Clinton Administration, despite the best efforts of Bush, Ashcroft, and Gonzales/Goodling. The most obvious change has been the near-destruction of the appeals process.

Immigration Demagoguery

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. Attorney General Gonzales should be impeached, for this and other crimes, e.g., legalizing torture. And 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.

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