Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lying for the Torturers: The APA School of Falsification

When earlier this month the ACLU released a new slew of FOIA documents -- unredacted portions of Admiral Church's 2005 report on detainee abuses at "war on terror" prisons abroad -- the spin machine of the American Psychological Association sprang into action. APA propagandist, and Ethics Director, Stephen Behnke was called upon to take up the cudgels, whereupon he wrote an unctious, dissembling letter to the ACLU.

In a letter dated May 15, Behnke praised ACLU for "uncovering details surrounding the treatment of detainees at detention facilities run by the U.S. government around the world." Then he reiterated APA's paper commitment to "the humane treatment of detainees." In between the lofty presentation of ideals and grand commitments, Behnke also made the following points (quoting from his letter, which has circulated via email, but not to my knowledge is online -- bold text below is my editorial emphasis):

We find what is revealed about abuse in the newly released documents abhorrent. The position of the American Psychological Association is clear and unequivocal: There is never a justification for torture or abuse. In carefully reviewing the documents, we note that according to the information obtained by the ACLU, psychologists supporting interrogations “emphasized their separation from detainee medical care,” and that a psychologist who suspected abuse “recommended the interrogation not proceed and brought in medical personnel to evaluate the detainee.” According to these documents, APA’s policy of engagement served the intended purpose: to stop interrogations that cross the bounds of ethical propriety....

APA is committed to promoting the humane treatment of detainees. We applaud the efforts of the ACLU to learn the truth about U.S. treatment of detainees. APA will adjudicate any allegation that an APA member has engaged in unethical conduct. If you have information that a psychologist has engaged in torture, I ask that you immediately bring this information to my attention.
As for Behnke's last contention, i.e., that APA wwould adjudicate any torture allegation against a psychologist, he forgets to mention that most of the information on such behavior is classified. But even more egregious is how APA has treated the formal complaints against one APA member psychologist John Leso. Leso was present for the interrogation of Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, and his contribution was documented via the leaked release of al-Qahtani's interrogation log. Psychologist Trudy Bond, among others, were quick to respond to this and file a formal complaint with APA. She reports on what happened to this complaint in a recent story at Counterpunch. Dr. Bond has given me permission to reproduce the correspondence in the quote below:
The APA leadership was long ago given hard evidence of misconduct by an APA member. A complaint was first filed by another source with your office against APA member Dr. John Leso in August of 2006....

...the Pentagon recently dropped charges against al-Qahtani, with much speculation that this decision was based on the knowledge of the torture he has endured -- torture which Dr. Leso enable as a psychologist and member of APA....

Dr. Leso maintains a valid license in the State of New York until 2009, and has been a member in good standing of the American Psychological Association since 1996.

I realize that "justice walks with leaden feet," (though few realize this statement belongs to Harry Weinberger, attorney for Emma Goldman), but my experience with the APA Office of Ethics in fulfilling the above promises feels more than leaden.

What follows is a synopsis of my attempts to achieve the VERY response YOU PLEDGED in your letter to the ACLU.

April 11, 2007 by Facsimile
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dr. Behnke:
I am filing an ethics complaint against Dr. John F. Leso, a member of APA since 1996. The behavior at issue is participation in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment as documented in the INTERROGATION LOG of DETAINNEE 063 at Guantanamo.
Sincerely,
Dr. Trudy Bond

April 11, 2007
From: APA Office of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond:
This is to acknowledge your inquiry received April 11, 2007 indicating your intent to file a complaint against Dr. John F. Leso . . . Once your completed complaint form is received, we will determine whether it is within the time limits for filing . . . We await your response.

April 15, 2007
To: APA Office of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
Member Against Whom You Are Complaining: Dr. John Franklin Leso. Major John Franklin Leso was licensed by a psychologist by the state of New York and retains license number 013492 until July, 2009. He is currently an active APA member and has been since 1996.

September 4, 2007
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
Attached is a copy of the form I submitted to the APA Ethics Committee on April 15, 2007 regarding APA member John Leso. I have received no acknowledgment of or response to said complaint, and therefore am resubmitting this complaint.

December 24, 2007
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics, by email
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
I filed a second formal complaint against John Leso on September 4, 2007 after i had received no contact form APA regarding the first complaint filed in April of this year. The APA Office of Ethics has not even acknowledged receipt of the complaints I filed.

December 24, 2007
Fr: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond,
The Ethics Office does not respond in email to questions regarding specific ethics matters . . please write or fax the Ethics Office and I will ensure that you receive an expeditious response.

January 3, 2008
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
As per your request of 12/24/07, I am resending my letter of that date to you by U.S. Postal Mail asking that you inform me of the status of my ethical complaints against Dr. John Leso.

January 23, 2008
Fr: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond,
Thank you for your letter of January 3 . . . I am out of the country and will respond to your question as soon as I return.

February 6, 2008
Fr: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond,
Our records indicate that on April 11, 2007 you contacted the Ethics Office and indicated a wish to file a complaint against Dr. John Leso . . . Our records indicate that as of October, 2007, the Office had received neither the complaint form nor any additional information from you. As a result, on October 11, the inquiry was closed. . . It appears that you took the complainant packet sent in April . . . and used it to file a complaint against (redacted) . . . the complaint form you submitted in the (redacted) matter has Dr. Leso's name covered by "white out" . . .To date, we have not received any complaint from you against Dr. Leso.

February 12, 2008
To: Stephen Behnke, APA Director of Ethics
Fr: Dr. Trudy Bond
The complaint against Dr. Leso dated 4/15/07 was never acknowledged by APA. On 9/4/07, I resubmitted the same APA form that I had sent to your office on April 15, 2007. This complaint also was never acknowledged.

February 27, 2008
Fr: Office of Ethics
Dear Dr. Bond:
This is to acknowledge receipt of the completed Ethics Complaint Form and materials for the complaint filed against James F. Leso, PhD....

As you well know, Dr. Behnke, Dr. Leso is not the only psychologist who has had complaints filed against him for involvement in torture, complaints that have not been "adjudicated" by your office. America's role as a torture nation is part of our national emergency. It's past time for APA to match words with deeds.
A Failed Policy, or a Policy of Obfuscation

I commend Dr. Bond for her attempt to keep APA on its ethical toes, and for doing the right thing. For my purposes, I wish to concentrate on Dr. Behnke's contention that "APA’s policy of engagement served the intended purpose: to stop interrogations that cross the bounds of ethical propriety." As with the issue of ajudicating complaints, Behkne's contention is a bald-faced lie.

The relevant section of the Church Report for our purposes is the newly unredacted section on page 281. It concerns interrogation policy and practice in Iraq. The document reads:
Illustrating our previous finding regarding the breakdown of disseminatio, the chart [which is redacted] demonstrates that the use of some of the techniques approved in the September 2003 memorandum continued even until July 2004, despite the fact that many were retracted by the October 2003 memorandum, and some were subsequently prohibited by the May 2004 memorandum.... the relatively widespread use of these techniques supports our finding that the policy documents were not always received or thoroughly understood.
The September 2003 memorandum is the Sanchez memorandum of 9/14/2003, CJTF-7 Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy, which includes use of isolation, sleep deprivation, dietary and environmental manipulation, among others. The latter carries this "note": "Caution: Based on court cases in other countries, some nations may view application of this technique in certain circumstances to be inhumane. Consideration of these views should be given prior to use of this technique." This memo also included "Yelling, Loud Music, and Light Control: Used to create fear, disorient detainee and prolong capture shock. Volume controlled to prevent injury," and the use of "stress positions."

To paraphrase a comment by Steven Miles, re this revelation of "widespread use of these techniques" (and despite statements elsewhere in the report that none of the actors involved noted such abuse -- an aspect of this somewhat whitewash of a report that is contradictory)... where were the psychologists when this was going on? The report also notes (pg. 355) that the psychologists did "not function as mental health providers, and one of their core missions is to support interrogations."

Furthermore, the unredacted portions of the report indicate that "documentation of medical care is not standardized or rigorous.... Separate detainee medical records are not maintained." A few paragraphs later (pp. 354-255), it's noted that "According to the Director, Psychological Applications Directorate (U.S. Army Special Operations Command), the only reason for sharing any medical information would be to ensure that detainees are treated in accordance with their medical requirements." -- In other words, psychologists were gatekeepers for indicating who and who couldn't medically stand the interrogation, such interrogations included, as noted above, "widespread use" of abusive and formally prohibited techniques.

I don't see how much clearer it can be, given the government is not going to hand us a smoking gun outright. The closest they came to doing that was when the Pentagon released it's own Inspector General report last year accusing SERE military psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell of helping reverse-engineer SERE training into torture instruction to U.S. military/CIA forces abroad. (Katherine Eban at Vanity Fair also wrote a great article on this matter last summer.) Was there any hand-wringing at APA over psychologists being so heavily-implicated in the torture reports? None that was expressed publicly in any case.

If this is not enough, consider the 11/4/03 interrogation at Abu Ghraib, reported in the Church Report, where a detainee "was initially reported to have slumped over during interrogation and then to have died despite attempted medical resuscitation." Since psychologists were assisting interrogations... where was the psychologist during this interrogation? (Later CID investigation suggested respiration problems due to hooding may have been involved. Hooding is a form of sensory deprivation, as well as inducing fear and disorientation.) -- There are a number of other such cases noted.

I believe there is more than enough evidence in the documents provided to cast a very ominous light on the actions of psychologists (and other medical personnel) regarding detainee abuse aka torture. In any case, Behnke's statement that these documents demonstrate that "APA's policy of engagement served the intended purpose: to stop interrogations that cross the bounds of ethical propriety" is a patent falsehood given the bulk of evidence presented.

The APA is on a long, dark road to compromised oblivion. But it does not march alone. There is the recent release of another major evaluation of detainee abuse -- this time looking at the role of the FBI at sites where torture took place. This investigatory report by the Department of Justice Inspector General describes how FBI agents were present at CIA torture, protested it, were ignored by their superiors, and even had their attempts at documenting the torture shut down. At the same time, top levels of DoJ, DoD, the FBI, the CIA, Congress, and the Bush Administration did all they could to facilitate the operations of torture and abuse at "war on terror" prisons that practically span the globe (from Guantanamo, to secret prisons in East Europe, to Iraq and Afghanistan, to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean). Meanwhile, the FBI agents -- the "good" ones -- filed their protests and went back to their jobs, and the American people were left in the dark.

It seems a majority of the top layer of U.S. intellectual, governmental, and managerial society has lost its mooring entirely. Beholden to a lifestyle and career track that rests upon conquest and imperialistic occupation and control abroad, they either support Bush's criminal policies, or drown themselves in impotent gestures of protest.

I, thankfully, am done with APA. But their self-serving lies and policy on torture carries on. Where APA sees dollar signs, the rest of us see a growing moral darkness.

1 comment:

Steven Miles said...

Bravo!
I could not have said it better myself.
Steve Miles

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