Wednesday, May 14, 2008

April 30, 2004... and now where are we?

If behavioral scientists are concerned solely with advancing their science, it seems most probably that they will serve the purposes of whatever individual or group has the power.
The quote above is from U.S. psychology pioneer Carl Rogers. It is worth pondering his statement as we consider both recent developments in the fight against U.S. torture, and more general considerations about the role of psychologists, physicians, and other scientific and medical personnel in interrogations for Bush's "War on Terror."

I was reading the New York Times's article on the decision by the "Convening Authority" at Guantanamo to drop all charges "without prejudice" against purported sixth 9/11 Al Qaeda hijacker Mohammed al-Qahtani, when my attention was drawn to an ad from the CIA trumpeting the announcement that they were seeking applicants for "National Clandestine Service Careers." A few clicks later, curious to see what they were offering for my own profession (not that I wish to apply), I found a number of positions open. Here's one that caught my eye:
Operational Psychologist
Work Schedule: Full Time
Salary: $82,961 – $127,442
Location: Washington, DC metropolitan area

Responsible for providing behavioral science consultancy to the Intelligence Community, the major activities involved in this role include psychological testing and behavioral assessment; customized training/consultation on topics related to cross-cultural personality assessment; and applied research.
"Applied research." "Cross-cultural personality assessment." Perhaps it was the sort of job that Major John Leso, psychologist at Guantanamo in late 2002-early 2003, had applied for, only to find himself present at the 54-day interrogation of Mr. al-Qahtani, otherwise known as Detainee 063. As Philippe Sands explains in his recent must-read article at Vanity Fair, "The Green Light", Mr. al-Qahtani had the unusual luck to have his interrogation log publicly leaked, detailing the torture -- which included 15 of 18 torture techniques, then under special approval of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- he underwent, in part under the participation of psychologist Leso.

No one knows for sure, as the "Convening Authority" is under no statutory obligation to explain herself, but it seems likely that al-Qahtani was dropped from Bush's projected show trials of other selected detainees, projected to begin sometime next year, because the evidence on him included large amounts of material produced through torture. There is no way the government can suppress this evidence by citing state secrecy, as the interrogation log is now public record, thanks to an anonymous leaker. Portions have already been published at Time Magazine. The full log is available at Center for Constitutional Rights.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon and the Bush Administration is preparing to try five other "high-profile" Guantanamo inmates at its dubious military commission hearings, as it seeks the death penalty for all five. One of the five is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused "mastermind" of the 9/11 attacks, who was admittedly waterboarded by CIA torturers during his interrogation. The videotape evidence of this was destroyed, leading to a brouhaha in the press and increased Congressional scrutiny.

Legal Experts Take on Bush/Cheney's Legal Team

Some of that Congressional interest was displayed at hearings on May 6 before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the House Judiciary Committee, looking at Bush Administration lawyers and the development of Administration interrogation rules over the past six years. Much of this history is already available in Philippe Sands' article cited above. Mr. Sands, a professor at University College London, was one of three prominent legal authorities to testify at the hearings (transcript courtesy of AfterDowningStreet.org):
Mr Chairman, Honourable Members of the Committee, the story I uncovered is an unhappy one. It points to the early and direct involvement of those at the highest levels of government, often through their lawyers, the individuals on whom I largely focused. In June 2004, after the scandal of Abu Ghraib broke, and the August 1, 2002 Bybee Torture Memo became public, Mr Gonzalez and Mr Haynes appeared before the media to claim that the Bush Administration had not authorized such abuse. Contrary to the impression given by the Administration, repeated by Mr Haynes when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2006, his involvement (and that of Secretary Rumsfeld) began well before that stated in the official version. Mr. Haynes had visited Guantanamo, together with Mr Gonzales and Mr Addington, discussed interrogations, and then recommended that the U.S. military abandon its tradition of restraint. My conclusion, on the basis of interviews and documents, is that this is a story not only of crime but also of cover-up, to protect the most senior members of the Administration from the consequences of the illegality that has stained America’s reputation.
Also speaking at the hearing was Marjorie Cohn, President of the National Lawyers Guild, who has recently called for the firing of University of California law professor John Yoo, who is heavily implicated in giving legal cover for Bush's torture plans. Ms. Cohn spoke very precisely about the legal gyrations of Bush administration lawyers as they sought refuge from legal accountability for the deliberate breaking of torture laws both national and international. What follows is an edited version of her testimony:
What does torture have in common with genocide, slavery, and wars of aggression? They are all jus cogens. Jus cogens is Latin for "higher law" or "compelling law." This means that no country can ever pass a law that allows torture. There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a jus cogens prohibition. [emphasis added]

The United States has always prohibited the use of torture in our Constitution, laws executive statements and judicial decisions....

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says, "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture."

Whether someone is a POW or not, he must always be treated humanely; there are no gaps in the Geneva Conventions. He must be protected against torture, mutilation, cruel treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating and degrading treatment under, Common Article 3....

The US War Crimes Act, and 18 USC sections 818 and 3231, punish torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment.

The Torture Statute provides for life in prison, or even the death penalty if the victim dies, for anyone who commits, attempts, or conspires to commit torture outside the United States....

In Filartiga v. Peña-Irala, the Second Circuit declared the prohibition against torture is universal, obligatory, specific and definable. Since then, every U.S. circuit court has reaffirmed that torture violates universal and customary international law. In the Paquete Habana, the Supreme Court held that customary international law is part of U.S. law....

Yet on February 7, 2002, President Bush, relying on memos by lawyers including John Yoo, announced that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda members....

Lawyers in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote memos at the request of high-ranking government officials in order to insulate them from future prosecution for subjecting detainees to torture....

The [United Nations] Torture Convention defines torture as the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering. The U.S. attached an "understanding" to its ratification of the Torture Convention, which added the requirement that the torturer "specifically" intend to inflict the severe physical or mental pain or suffering. This is a distinction without a difference for three reasons. First, under well-established principles of criminal law, a person specifically intends to cause a result when he either consciously desires that result or when he knows the result is practically certain to follow. Second, unlike a "reservation" to a treaty provision, an "understanding" cannot change an international legal obligation. Third, under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, an "understanding" that violates the object and purpose of a treaty is void. The claim that treatment of prisoners which would amount to torture under the Torture Convention does not constitute torture under the U.S. "understanding" violates the object and purpose of the Convention, which is to ensure that "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment"....

Nevertheless, Yoo twisted the law and redefined torture much more narrowly than the definitions in the Convention Against Torture and the Torture Statute. Under Yoo's definition, the victim must experience intense pain or suffering equivalent to pain associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in loss of significant body functions will likely result.
Attorney David Luban, a Georgetown law professor, and the third expert to speak at the committee hearing, zeroed in on White House legal counsels' terrible twisting of the meaning of pain and suffering under torture:
...as I mentioned earlier, [John Yoo] wrenches language from a Medicare statute to explain the legal definition of torture. The Medicare statute lists severe pain as a possible symptom of a medical emergency, and Mr. Yoo flips the statute and uses the language of medical emergency to define severe pain. This was so bizarre that the OLC itself disowned his definition a few months after it became public. It is highly unusual for one OLC opinion to disown an earlier one, and it shows just how far out of the mainstream Mr. Yoo had wandered. This goes beyond the ethical limits for a legal advisor. In fact, even in the courtroom there are limits to spinning the law: ethics rules forbid advocates from making frivolous legal arguments, or failing to disclose adverse legal authority. But it would be a mistake to focus only on Mr. Yoo. Mr. Levin’s replacement memo also takes liberties with the law. In particular, when the Levin Memo discusses the term “severe physical suffering” (which is part of the statutory definition of torture), it states that the suffering must “prolonged” to be severe – and that requirement simply isn’t in the statute at all. Under that definition, of course, waterboarding would not be torture because people break within seconds or minutes. This is a perfect example of a legalistic definition that looks inconspicuous but in reality narrows the definition of torture dramatically. Notice that the quicker a technique breaks the interrogation subject, the less prolonged his suffering will be – so the harsher the tactic, the less likely it is to qualify as “torture.”
I wonder if any CIA psychologist wannabes were watching the House committee testimony on C-Span. Perhaps they will have to sign a waiver releasing the Agency from liability if they are later found prosecutable for war crimes. One never knows.

Torture and Civil Society

Among those who are fighting to remove psychologists from government interrogations at Guantanamo and other "war on terror" prison sites (including CIA secret torture prisons), there is some recent hope that the tide is turning in the struggle against the ossified bureaucratic apparatus of the American Psychological Association. Steven Reisner got a plurality of votes in the first round of voting for APA president. Even more, a petition to essentially remove psychologists from operational roles at national security interrogations has gained over 800 signatures thus far.

About 950 signatures, or about 1% of the total APA membership, is needed to move the petition along to the next stage in the overly onerous process of delivering a vote on participation in interrogations to the overall APA membership. Along the way, supporters must survive vetting of the measure by both the APA president and the APA Council of Representatives. I believe the petition supporters are hoping that political pressures within and without the organization will help push it through. Meanwhile, APA leadership is planning to once again "discuss" the interrogations "issue" at its annual conference this August, hoping, no doubt, to talk their opponents into oblivion, or at least to a standstill, as they await marching orders from their bosses in Washington, DC and/or Langley.

We are too close and embroiled in the struggle against state-sponsored torture to get a complete perspective on just how compromised major portions of U.S. civil society has become. But things are not exactly looking promising at the moment. The quote from Dr. Rogers that opened this essay was written over forty years ago. A generation has come and gone, and the same problems remain. Note Rogers' emphasis: "If behavioral scientists are concerned solely with advancing their science..." Scientists and attorneys, doctors and soldiers, if one is only concerned with advancing their profession, then professional parochialism is surely the prelude to societal dissolution.

Dr. Steven Miles, whose book Oath Betrayed documents the complicity of medical doctors and personnel in torture and abuse at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, among other prison sites, is fond of noting that over four years after the revelations of the sickening, criminal abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib was made public on April 30, 2004, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) "maintains continuous editorial silence on medical complicity with human rights abuses in US war on terror prisons." Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association maintains the fiction that psychologists are at Guantanamo, for example, in order to make interrogations "safe" for the detainees.

Slowly, achingly, you can feel the decent core of society straining to lift the crimes of torture and aggressive war off its bowed shoulders, like a modern Atlas struggling to raise the world up, while bureaucrats, military and intelligence hawks, crooked politicians, careerist attorneys, war profiteers, and oblivious medical and psychological personnel careen over themselves to pull it down. Will they succeed? And which "they" do you identify with?

2 comments:

Annie said...

Along that line, I have been troubled by the actions of nurses and physicians who worked as employees for the Department of Immigration Health Services (what a benign sounding name for such a warped function). The Priest/Goldstein reportage demonstrated evidence that they forcibly administered psychotropic and anti-anxiety medications against the will of detainees with no medical indications for them. I think that the US is developing a new cadre of Josef Mengeles, and it is frightening. The post where I'm trying to untangle the laws, regulations and oversight, as well as to chronicle the evidence is at my name.

But at any rate, licensed healthcare providers are being used systematically, to commit acts of torture and abuse on people, and they are committing human rights violations and are breaking laws as well as ethics.

Valtin said...

You are correct (again, I might add). My colleague Stephen Soldz has been writing a lot about this lately (see his blog, Psyche, Science and Society). I should give my own contribution on this subject. It definitely is connected to the collaboration issue with torture, and draws even a larger picture of the complicity of the healing professions with state authoritarian procedures and institutions.

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