Thursday, February 28, 2008

British Gov't Seeks to Silence Whistleblower on Rendition

A huge story is brewing on the extent of the U.S. extraordinary rendition program, involving direct participation on an operational level. From a press release today from the Stop the War Coalition in Great Britain:
Press Release
Stop the War Coalition
Thursday 28 February 2008
4.15 pm

Government threat to gag Ex-SAS soldier speaking out on rendition and torture

Ex-SAS trooper Ben Griffin will join Ibrahim Moussawi, Hassan Juma’a and others at the World Against War rally this evening at Friend’s Meeting House, Euston Road, NW1 at 6.30 pm.

The government is seeking an injunction against Ben tomorrow morning (Friday) to prevent him speaking out about British collaboration with US rendition and torture. He will be speaking about these issues tonight.

David Wilson
Press Office
Stop the War Coalition
M: 07951 579 064
Here's a link to a video of Ben talking to the press about British troop involvement in the U.S. rendition program. He makes the point that there is a "global network of prisons" where indefinite detention and the threat of torture is imposed upon detainees. This global gulag directly violates the Geneva Conventions, international law, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Furthermore -- and this is Ben Griffin's central accusation, and why the British government is trying to silence him -- it is often "British soldiers [who are] detaining the victims of rendition in the first place."

Griffin's story was written up in detail by the UK Telegraph the other day, and I wrote about it last Monday. In Griffin's press conference earlier this week, he talked about how UK involvment in the American program began in Afghanistan, not too long after 9/11. He continued:
The use of British Territory and airspace pales into insignificance in light of the fact that it has been British soldiers detaining the victims of Extraordinary Rendition in the first place. Since the invasion of Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001 UKSF has operated within a joint US/UK Task Force. This Task Force has been responsible for the detention of hundreds if not thousands of individuals in Afghanistan and Iraq. Individuals detained by British soldiers within this Task force have ended up in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, Bagram Theatre Internment Facility, Balad Special Forces Base, Camp Nama BIAP and Abu Ghraib Prison.

Whilst the government has stated its desire that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp be closed, it has remained silent over these other secretive prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This story has received no coverage in this country but is vitally important to those who wish to fight against the U.S. torture machine. Please spread this story wide and far. Ask your local and national papers why they aren't covering it. Don't let Ben Griffin be silenced!

Monday, February 25, 2008

CIA Library at Your Fingertips

Ever wish you had access to the kinds of documents that U.S. spymasters and agents have? Now you can, courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency, "an independent US Government agency responsible for providing national security intelligence to senior US policymakers" (according to their website).

The library in question is the Documents webpage of the CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence. At this site, you can peruse a number of interesting sounding essays, including Intelligence in American Society, Insurgent Counterintelligence, The Vietnamese as Operational Target, Spotting Photo Fakery, and the classic 1950s study on interrogations (advertised as "some guidelines for secret agents," and only declassified in 1996), Defense Against Communist Interrogation Organizations.

I haven't read most of the many, many documents listed there. Their very listing is the fruit of fights over many decades for the CIA to open its files. Everything there should be taken with a generous dose of salt. But, as the publication of the "Defense" essay demonstrates, there is much there of historical and political value. One of the most fascinating documents I came across is a 1978 interview with Richard Helms, the former director of the CIA who destroyed many of the MKULTRA documents. In the interview, he discusses why he did it, and what (from an official CIA standpoint) MKULTRA was all about. It's interesting, from a disinformation point of view. The interview has a lot more: on Nixon, on Chile, and on Watergate and the Church investigations.

Don't forget to bookmark it.

Torture and "Inevitable Demoralization," from 1902 to the Present

Paul Kramer at The New Yorker has written a fascinating look at the use of torture by U.S. troops in the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. Back then, the U.S. was accused of using the infamous "water cure" upon Philippine "insurgents." A then-atypical confession by pro-war Judge Wiliam Howard Taft, head of the pro-U.S. Philippine Commission, described the technique:
The cruelties that have been inflicted; that people have been shot when they ought not to have been; that there have been in individual instances of water cure, that torture which I believe involves pouring water down the throat so that the man swells and gets the impression that he is going to be suffocated and then tells what he knows, which was a frequent treatment under the Spaniards, I am told—all these things are true.
Kramer's article describes the political maneuvering around the torture scandal of that time, in ways that are eerily similar to today's debates. What's different, of course, is that other, more psychological forms of torture have been added since those early days of American imperialist wars. (Over 4,000 U.S. soldiers died in the conflict, and total Philippine deaths, both military and civilian, are estimated to be between a quarter of a million to one million people. It's worth noting that U.S. military activities against Philippine "insurgents" or "brigands" continued until at least 1913.)

Rendition (Deadly) Games: New Revelations

Increasingly, the U.S. is out-sourcing its more barbaric, old-fashioned use of torture to foreign torturers, sending its prisoners secretly via "extraordinary rendition" to sites in countries like Egypt, Morocco, and Uzbekistan. The extent of this secret program of kidnapping and torture is still being assessed via ongoing revelations in the press. In today's UK Telegraph, a former British special forces soldier, Ben Griffin, has charged that the British government was far more complicit in these activities than previously known.
Mr Griffin said the SAS was part of a joint US/UK unit which captured suspected terrorist who were then spirited away for interrogation....

Mr Griffin, who served for three months in Baghdad, added: "I have no doubt in my mind that non-combatants I personally detained were handed over to the Americans and subsequently tortured.

"It is only since I have left the Army and I have read the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on Torture that I realised that we have broken so many of these conventions and treaties in Iraq."
Other recent press reports have implicated other European Union member states -- Poland and Romania -- in aiding the U.S. in their rendition program. A recent New York Times article details U.S. complicity in the infamous Operation Condor program of the 1970-1980s, where a number of Latin American countries "helped one another locate, transport, torture and ultimately make disappear dissidents across their borders, and even collaborated on assassination operations in Europe and the United States."

Meanwhile, currently, we have the hoopla over the recent Senate bill that restricts the CIA to the interrogation protocols of the Army Field Manual masks the fact that the AFM authorizes the use of psychological methods of torture, including sleep and sensory deprivation, and prolonged isolation. President Bush is threatening to veto the bill as too restrictive on CIA operations.

Wither Our Humanity?

Towards the end of his New Yorker piece, Kramer remarks on how the scandal over torture eventually faded away. A few officers had their hands slapped. Commissions took contradictory testimony; editorials fired bombastic fusillades. But in the end, the barbarity was covered up, filed away, and forgotten (until now).

Kramer quotes an extraordinary article from the time (bold emphases are mine, and please forgive my quoting also the racist jargon, indicative of that era):
As early as April 16, 1902, the New York World described the “American Public” sitting down to eat its breakfast with a newspaper full of Philippine atrocities:
It sips its coffee and reads of its soldiers administering the “water cure” to rebels; of how water with handfuls of salt thrown in to make it more efficacious, is forced down the throats of the patients until their bodies become distended to the point of bursting; of how our soldiers then jump on the distended bodies to force the water out quickly so that the “treatment” can begin all over again. The American Public takes another sip of its coffee and remarks, “How very unpleasant!”
“But where is that vast national outburst of astounded horror which an old-fashioned America would have predicted at the reading of such news?” the World asked. “Is it lost somewhere in the 8,000 miles that divide us from the scenes of these abominations? Is it led astray by the darker skins of the alien race among which these abominations are perpetrated? Or is it rotted away by that inevitable demoralization which the wrong-doing of a great nation must inflict on the consciences of the least of its citizens?”
It is difficult to hang onto principles of justice and morality in a society that has become inured to the worst crimes and inhuman behaviors. The memory of events may be forgotten, but they live on in the societal failure to embrace history, in the cynicism and despair towards institutions and belief systems, and in the cries of untold victims whose pleas for mercy and justice echo soundlessly into the void.

Is this our future? Or are we already there?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tepid CIA "Admissions" on Rendition and Waterboarding

From Michael Otterman over at American Torture:
First, there was Hayden's admission that only three CIA prisoners were tortured on the waterboard. This, despite evidence of much wider use-- namely on Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who under CIA torture fabricated tales of strong Al Qaeda - WMD - Saddam links.

Now, we have this. According to Hayden, only two rendition victims were briefly held on Diego Garcia. In 2005, the Toronto Star revealed that "two navy prison ships ferry prisoners in and out" of the Indian Ocean base. A long suspected CIA black site, Reprieve's Clive Stafford Smith said last year he was "absolutely and categorically certain" that prisoners have been held on the remote atoll.

Two modified limited hangouts from Hayden in three weeks. What will the CIA have us believe next-- that the agency has created only two new al Qaeda recruits via blowback to its widescale use of torture?
Like an abused spouse, the U.S. media and general public lap up the sorry half-truths and mea culpas of the American government regarding its torture and rendition programs. "Extraordinary rendition" is a U.S. covert operation that kidnaps foreign nationals in other countries and delivers them into the hands of countries that torture (Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan have been named in various accounts). This torture is believed often to be supervised or observed by U.S. officials themselves, probably CIA. This was powerfully dramatized in the recent movie, Rendition, loosely based on the Khaled Masri case.

There has been a lot of talk and even some legislative activity around U.S. torture policies recently, but there's no evidence any of it has had any effect on the practices of the Pentagon or the CIA. The dissidents of the American Psychological Association recently got its association to make a stronger statement against use of any torture or abusive treatment of detainees at sites where "enemy combatants" are imprisoned. But they have made no progress at all in pulling psychologists from such sites, and they continue to staff the notorious Behavioral Science Consultation Teams at Guantanamo and elsewhere. (I'll be writing more about this in the near future.)

Not to slight the strenuous and important efforts of organizations like Physicians for Human Rights or Human Rights First in fighting torture, or the vital contributions of many journalists and medical professionals, U.S. society still awaits a serious, sustained, and mass-backed movement against American use of torture.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Stop Barbaric Execution of Saudi "Witch"!

It is over 300 years since the famous Salem witchcraft trials, which ended in the hanging of over nineteen men and women at Gallows Hill. The last execution for so-called witchcraft in England was in 1684. The last woman put to death for the "crime" of sorcery was Anna Göldi, beheaded in Switzerland in 1782. The last execution for "sorcery" in Saudi Arabia was in... 2007!

Now its 2008, and staunch U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is about to do it again. Saudi law courts have sentenced Fawza Fahli for "witchcraft, recourse to jinn [supernatural beings], and slaughter of animals." Held in Quraiyat Prison, she is to be beheaded. Arrested in May 2005 by the mutaween (religious police from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice), her conviction in April 2006 was based on a coerced confession (later retracted), and on the statements of her supposed "bewitched" victims, including a man who claimed she made him impotent.

The Saudi rulers aren't posturing here. In November 2007, they decapitated by sword Egyptian pharmacist Mustafa Ibrahim in Riyadh, found "guilty" of supposedly trying to separate a married couple by use of "sorcery."
Ibrahim had been accused by another foreign resident of using magic to separate him from his wife. The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) then reported that "evidence" had been retrieved from Mustapha Ibrahim's home. This included black magic books, a candle emblazoned with the words "to summon devils" and "foul-smelling herbs". SPA stated that Ibrahim "confessed to adultery with a woman and desecrating the Koran by placing it in the bathroom."
An appeals court in Saudi Arabia initially put a stay to Fahli's execution, because she had retracted her confession, but a different court reinstated the death sentence. Human Rights First, which has written a letter to King Abdullah bin Abd al-’Aziz Al Saud calling for a halt Fahli's execution, notes:
The legal basis for this decision includes the statement that witches “are not given the opportunity to repent, because witchcraft is not eradicable by penitence"....

...the accused was unable to challenge any of the witnesses against her: the witnesses did not testify in court, but gave written statements, and the judge kept her in the waiting room during sessions when evidence was presented....

Fawza Falih spent 35 days in detention at the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) after her arrest on May 4, 2005 (25/3/1426). Her detention there violated a 1981 royal decree prohibiting the CPVPV from holding and interrogating suspects at their centers. She asserted in her appeal that she was beaten during her interrogation, naming one official of the governorate. Her appeal states that she lost consciousness during one beating and was treated at the hospital. She asserts that fellow female prisoners bandaged her wounds. Human Rights Watch spoke to a relative who was allowed to visit her for the first time after about 20 days in CPVPV detention, following her hospital treatment, and saw marks from beatings on her back. There would thus have been ample evidence to indicate that her confession was coerced.
The medieval, feudalist rulers of Saudi Arabia are major allies to the U.S. in its purported "war on terror." But the impossibly rich sheiks of that country are steeped in a fundamentalist version of Islam called Wahabism. Awash in dollars and euros, the Saudi royal family has financed madrassas and mosques around the world to spread their form of Islam, which treats women as second class citizens chattel slaves and believes in "witchcraft," among other things. Yet, their so-called orthodox form of Islam does not stop them from violating Islamic law and utilizing torture, as this story from a recently released Briton jailed in Saudi Arabia describes:
Paul Moss, who was arrested in December 2000, described how he was treated while in the custody of the interior ministry at a facility in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, where he said he was held in solitary confinement for seven weeks. “I did not have a name: I was just addressed as a number throughout by an interrogator who was obviously well-educated. Every time I was taken from the windowless cell two floors up for interrogation I was blindfolded and shackled.” He told the Guardian that he was deprived of sleep, and beaten on four separate occasions: “They hit me in the testicles with a stick. Then they hit me on the chin each time as I went down.” Moss also alleged that he was intimidated and threatened: “They took me on the roof and said they would throw me off and say I'd been trying to escape. They said they'd done that before. They threatened to plant drugs in my house to get my wife and child beheaded.”
The U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia is based on oil and geopolitical realpolitik. The planned execution of the illiterate Fawza Fahli -- she was forced to place her fingerprint upon her "confession," a confession she could not even read -- is the fruit of the deeply cynical and selfish foreign policy of the United States, which props up the most degenerate and reactionary regimes if it serves U.S. "interests."

The American people must condemn this sick policy, and force its leaders to break with the decades-long policy of support to anti-democratic, anti-women, totalitarian regimes, of both the religious and the secular varieties (like Egypt). The embrace of Wahabi fundamentalism proves the lie behind Bush's stance of promoting "democracy" in the Middle East.

I leave it to my readers to decide what it means in 2008 that to save an innocent woman's life one must write to a King. If you do write to HRH King Abdullah bin Abd al-’Aziz Al Saud, at Royal Court, Riyadh 11111, Saudi Arabia, please be polite and save your political points for elsewhere. Ask for justice and mercy.

Later, as you reflect upon the state of our world, pray to whatever god you like for the same upon all of us. Upon one innocent woman's head lies the destiny of us all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Anti-Torture Candidate for APA President

Steven Reisner is running for president of the American Psychological Association. He has been a central figure in the fight to break APA from their position that psychologists assist with national security interrogations, such as their work with the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams or BSCTs at Guantanamo and elsewhere. This collaboration by psychologists has not led to a lessening of brutality and psychological torture of detainees, but in fact has been implicated in its design and implementation.

Dr. Reisner's campaign, as his election statement emphasizes, calls for "a clear departure from the complicity of psychologists in state-sponsored abuses of human rights, whether these take place at Guantánamo, CIA black sites, or domestic supermax prisons."

I resigned from APA myself last month, in protest of the tight relationship that has grown between the APA ruling apparatus and the various governmental entities that define the national security state. The use of torture is only one of the ways psychologists have been utilized to promote the effectiveness of the U.S. war machine. While I came to the conclusion that APA cannot be reformed at this point, there is the possibility, of course, that I'm wrong. And if it turns out I am mistaken, it will be because the membership of APA will have chosen leaders like Dr. Reisner for their elected offices. If I were still in APA, I definitely would have cast my vote for Steven, and I recommend that any APA members reading this do the same.

Below is an email Dr. Reisner recently distributed, as posted at Psyche, Science, and Society:
Dear Colleagues,

Because of a printing error, the APA Presidential nomination ballots are in the mail again, and once again, I am asking for your support. Please put STEVEN J. REISNER on the first line when you receive the new ballot.

And, if it is possible, please spread the word to other psychologists, groups and listservs.

The issue remains the same: the APA must take a principled stance against our nation’s policy of using psychologists to oversee abusive and coercive interrogations of detainees and ‘enemy combatants’ at centers like Guantánamo and secret CIA black sites, that operate in violation of international law and the Geneva conventions.

For thousands of years, health professionals have been guided by the ethical precept, “Do no harm.” At the time the ethics code of the American Psychological Association was written, wise psychologists went even further, adding a further obligation: “to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons.”

Unfortunately, the recent record of the APA has been to undermine this fundamental principle. When the US government called for harsh interrogation strategies for detainees, psychologists answered the call. When psychologists’ roles in these abuses were exposed, the APA leadership first denied that these things actually took place. Even now, the APA defends its policy by claiming that APA should not interfere in the legitimate practice of other psychologists. While I agree wholeheartedly with this value, I do not believe it extends to a supposed ‘freedom’ for psychologists to participate in abusive detainee interrogations, or in any interrogations that take place in conditions where human rights and international law are being flagrantly violated

When, as recently as last week, the President of the United States re-asserted the right to continue to use waterboarding; when just this week, a sitting Supreme Court Justice publicly referred to such techniques as “so-called torture” (“It would be absurd to say you couldn’t…stick something under the fingernail, [or] smack him in the face.” — Antonin Scalia, BBC interview, 2/12/08), we, the health professionals dedicated to human health and welfare, must take a stand. Now is the time for us to reassert the humane standard that has guided health professionals in times of conflict: “Do no harm.”

But since 2002, our ethics code has permitted violations of those standards when they conflict with law or military regulation. In fact, guidelines drafted for Army psychologists providing psychological support for detainee interrogations reminds them: “The Ethics Code is always subordinate to the law and regulations.”

Right now, doing harm, violating the rights and welfare of others, abusing detainees are all legal (“We’ll make sure professionals have the tools necessary to do their job, within the law.” — President Bush, BBC News, Feb. 14, 2004). This is precisely the reason that a clear ethical standard is so important, so that psychologists may remind their superiors that they are required to adhere to the humane standard that has guided health professionals in times of conflict: “Do no harm.”

Many good psychologists have resigned or are withholding their dues because of this issue. Among them is Ken Pope, who wrote in his recent resignation letter from the APA: “APA’s creation of an enforceable standard allowing psychologists to violate these fundamental ethical responsibilities in favor of following a regulation, a law, or a governing legal authority clashes with its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values…This new enforceable standard, in my opinion, contradicts one of the essential ethical values voiced in the Nuremberg trials. Even in light of the post-9-11 historical context and challenges, I believe we can never abandon the fundamental ethical value affirmed at Nuremberg.”

It is time for us to turn the APA around. It is time for the APA to join the other health professional organizations around the world, including the World Medical Association, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, in upholding the United Nations Principles of Medical Ethics and in saying ‘no’ to participation in unethical interrogations and human rights violations.

I am asking for you to help me reverse the APA’s direction and restore our fundamental principles.

Please put STEVEN J. REISNER first when you receive the ballot in the mail. Please remember, these are substitute ballots, so even if you voted once, you must vote again!

And please, spread the word to other APA members, listservs, and groups.

My nomination statement can be read here or downloaded as a pdf here. It can also be read at For a detailed history of the issue of psychologists, interrogations, and the APA, please see the ‘Commentary on the APA’s FAQ on Interrogations,’ prepared by the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology:

Thank you again for your time and your vote!

Steven Reisner, Ph.D.
Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
225 West 15th Street, Apt C
New York, NY 10011
phone 212-633-8391

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gov't Censorship Alert: U.S. Judge Shuts Down

Also posted at Docudharma

U.S. Federal District Judge (Northern District of California, San Francisco Division) Jeffrey White, a Bush appointee, has ordered the Internet Service Provider Dynadot to shut down the important whistleblowing site, Wikileaks. In recent months, Wikileaks has published important documents related to Guantanamo's Standard Operating Procedures, the heretofore secret Rules of Engagement of the U.S. in the Iraq War, as well as bank fraud in Kenya.
Dynadot shall immediately clear and remove all DNS hosting records for the domain name and prevent the domain name from resolving to the website or any other website or server other than a blank park page, until further order of this Court.
The good folks at Wikileaks have anticipated something of this sort sooner or later, and have a number of mirror sites hosted outside the U.S., so they can still be accessed here and here. But this attempt at outright censorship must be overturned. This is not China censoring government critics, or some small corrupt country trying to hide its dirty laundry. This is a U.S. judge, at an ex parte hearing (no one from Wikileaks was even present or represented), acting like a totalitarian factotum.

A Wikileaks press release explains:
The order was written by Cayman Island's Bank Julius Baer lawyers and was accepted by judge White without amendment, or representations by Wikileaks or amicus. The case is over several Wikileaks articles, public commentary and documents dating prior to 2003. The documents allegedly reveal secret Julius Baer trust structures used for asset hiding, money laundering and tax evasion. The bank alleges the documents were disclosed to Wikileaks by offshore banking whistleblower and former Vice President the Cayman Island's operation, Rudolf Elmer. Unable to lawfully attack Wikileaks servers which are based in several countries, the order was served on the intermediary Wikileaks purchased the '' name through -- California registrar Dynadot, who then used its access to the internet website name registration system to delete the records for ''. The order also enjoins every person who has heard about the order from from even linking to the documents....

Wikileaks will keep on publishing, in-fact, given the level of suppression involved in this case, Wikileaks will step up publication of documents pertaining to illegal or unethical banking practices.

Wikileaks has six pro-bono attorney's in S.F on roster to deal with a legal assault, however Wikileaks was given only hours notice "by email" prior to the hearing. Wikileaks was NOT represented. Wikileaks pre-litigation California council Julie Turner attended the start of hearing in a personal capacity but was then asked to leave the court room.

White signed the order, drafted by the Cayman Islands bank's lawyers without a single amendment.

The injunction claims to be permanent, although the case is only preliminary.
In a diary at the top of the Recommended List right now over at Daily Kos, Stephen Soldz makes the important point that there have been other attempts in U.S. history to
... block publication of particular documents, most famously in 1971 when the Nixon administration attempted to stop publication by the New York Times of excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, leaked by Daniel Ellsberg. But trying to close down an entire site in this way is truly unprecedented. Not even the Nixon administration, when they sought to block publication of the Pentagon Papers, considered closing down the New York Times in response.
It's hard to believe that this judge's ruling will be left to stand. But in today's political environment, nothing must be taken for granted. It's not clear how to support Wikileaks in this instance, as they haven't released a call for any specific action. Of course, this has just happened. It is our job to spread the news far and wide and put the heat on the powers that be that this blatant unconstitutional prior restraint of the press will not stand.

For Presidents Day, remember the freedom that the founding fathers fought for, and let everyone know that U.S. courts are trying to shut down whistleblowers, and the internet sites that publish what they find. I don't think I need to belabor the importance of this, as any site could be affected this way, and all reasonable discussion shut down.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Waterboarding Ban? -- Senate Shadow-Boxing Bush on Torture

When we played our charade
We were like children posing
Playing at games, acting out names
Guessing the parts we played

(with a nod to Harry Connick, Jr.)
Despite the best intentions of a number of politicians and human rights advocates, the Senate Intelligence Authorization Bill (H.R. 2082) is not going to significantly change the U.S. torture picture. I would note that Human Rights First disagrees with me, as they are actively campaigning for its passage. I believe the leadership of Physicians for Human Rights, and a lot of other people I respect are urging its passage, against threats of a Bush veto. And now, they have gotten their wish, or some kind of start towards its fulfillment in a familiar version of the old style two-stage reformism -- first we stop the CIA's "enhanced" interrogation techniques, then we go after their whole torture apparatus.

Who am I to say I know more than HRF or PHR, who both have done such exemplary work in this realm? Today, their strategy began to unfold for real:
The US Senate passed legislation Wednesday requiring US intelligence agencies to use the same interrogation rules as the military, amid an uproar of the CIA's past use of waterboarding.

The White House has warned that President George W. Bush would veto the legislation, which passed the House of Representatives in December and the Senate approved in a 51-45 vote.
My differences with HRF and PHR boil down to this: I believe that it sows illusions in the reformability of the U.S. torture apparatus, and disarms Americans from the struggle against torture to propagandize the supposed reasonableness of the Army Field Manual reforms. In fact, the reconstructed AFM maintained a core of coercive interrogation techniques that are central to the CIA-created KUBARK form of torture that relies on the induction of Debility, Dread and Dependency in prisoners, mainly through the use of isolation, sensory deprivation, and the inculcation of weakness and fear. The AFM keeps all three. It lies about banning sensory deprivation, but anyone who reads Appendix M of the AFM will see it all laid out for them: use of goggles and earmuffs for sensory deprivation purposes, restriction of sleep to four hours nightly max for 30 or more days, allowance of "fear up harsh," and isolation for 30 days or more. "Or more" means "as authorized."

Readers are referred to my recent article on this subject, The Wages of Fear: What the Waterboarding Debate is Really About.

In any case, the Senate vote is hardly veto-proof, and I'm afraid Bush and the CIA will have the waterboarding threat to hang over its victims' heads for some time to come. Assuming a likely veto, and an inability to override, the liberal strategy has produced a lose-lose situation. Torture opponents look weak. Their program will not end torture. And even if their bill miraculously passes both houses of Congress and the president's sure veto is overridden, it will not produce further movement for greater action against coercive interrogations. In fact, a supposed waterboard ban will shut it down, as the populace will believe (falsely) the campaign is already won.

We should be demanding a full dismantling of the U.S. torture program -- including the policy of extraordinary rendition and the institution of secret prisons -- and intransigent political opposition to any politician who refuses to sign on.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Worse Than Darfur: U.S. Proxy War in Somalia

According to a new article by Steve Bloomfield in the UK Independent, the U.S. policy of advising Ethiopia in its war with neighboring Somalia has failed. Not surprisingly for the Bush team, it has achieved results entirely the opposite of what it intended. The outcome? UN officials describe it as the "the largest concentration of displaced people anywhere in the world.... the worst humanitarian catastrophe in Africa, eclipsing even Darfur in its sheer horror."

According to Bloomfield, the U.S. believed that Al Qaida had established a presence in the "failed state" that was Somalia at the beginning of this century. The U.S. wanted to strike at the Union of Islamic Courts, a fundamentalist coalition that was ruling over much of central and southern Somalia.
On Christmas Day 2006, Ethiopia invaded its neighbour, Somalia. The aim: to drive out a coalition of Islamists ruling the capital, Mogadishu, and install a fragile interim government that had been confined to a small town in the west. But Ethiopia was not acting alone. The US had given its approval for the operation and provided key intelligence and technical support. CIA agents travelled with the Ethiopian troops, helping to direct operations.
But things didn't turn out as the administration experts had hoped. Of course, they tried to play the same old colonial card, turning one sordid group against another.
The CIA's desperation to root out the men on their list saw them turn to some old enemies for help. CIA agents landed at tiny airstrips outside Mogadishu and handed briefcases full of crisp new $100 notes over to the same warlords who had chased the US out of Somalia in 1993. The warlords took the money and used it to take on the Courts. They formed themselves into the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism – before proceeding to do very little to find the supposed terrorists the CIA wanted caught.

The strategy backfired. The leaders of the courts united their militias and defeated the US-backed warlords.
Meanwhile, Ethiopian troops occupied much of Somalia, and like the U.S. and its faux-coalition forces in Iraq, ran smack into an authentic insurgency, complete with hardline Islamic leadership -- just the opposite of what the administration said they wanted in Somalia. Now there are daily gunfights and violence in Mogadishu, leading Ethiopia to plan its own "surge" in Somalia. It's estimated there are 15,000 Ethiopian troops there right now.
The number of armed soldiers may seem smaller than in Iraq, but the refugee problem resembles that created by the U.S. invasion to the north.
More than 600,000 people fled Mogadishu last year. Around 200,000 are now living in squalid impromptu refugee camps along a 15km-stretch of road outside the capital. According to UN officials it is the largest concentration of displaced people anywhere in the world. Those same officials now consider Somalia to be the worst humanitarian catastrophe in Africa, eclipsing even Darfur in its sheer horror.
Bush's Talk of Democracy = Endless War, Millions of Refugees, Untold Dead

Pondering the ruins of Bush's "war on terror" policy from afar, one wonders what the hell Bush, Cheney, and the Pentagon tops were trying to accomplish in their "regime change" wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
Chris Floyd, who has been covering the Somalia crisis for some time, has his own take:
Each ["regime change" war ] has radicalized vast swathes of the populations under attack, while driving out moderates, technocrats, professionals: anyone who cannot easily be bought or manipulated – or provoked into some violent action that will "justify" American domination. Indeed, this profitable and politically expedient exacerbation of terror and extremism is such a deep-rooted characteristic of the "regime change" wars that it would take a mighty act of will to believe that it is not deliberate.
It will take a victorious populace, forcing open the secret archives of this country to know just what the rulers of this country is really trying to accomplish. (Somalia's strategic location on the horn of Africa, and proximity to oil reserves may have something important to do with U.S. intentions.) One thing is for certain, Bush and his team have created a greater load of refugees than anyone in this world has seen since at least the great Indian partition of the late 1940s.

I would like to see whether either Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton, one of whom seems certain to become the next U.S. president (and my money's on Obama), have any policy statements to make on Somalia. Thus far, I don't know of any. Obama's stance against the Iraq War is a step in the right direction, but at times he has fed into Bush's fake war on terror rhetoric, and that's a step directly into the maw of the Pentagon's war machine.

Meanwhile, as Somali refugees fan out all over the world, they are having a particularly difficult time, as this report from Norway suggests:
According to most indicators of living standards, Somalis are the refugee group that has poorest ratings. They are more often unemployed than any other groups of first-generation immigrants in Norway. In 2001, 25.8 per cent of Somalis in Norway were employed, as against 38.3 per cent of first-generation Pakistanis and 64.8 per cent of persons without immigrant background. Nineteen per cent of Somali women had work, whereas 31.1 per cent of the men were working.... Many Somalis have great difficulty in finding accommodation; landlords are often reluctant to let to Somali families with many children. In a study of living conditions among immigrants in 1996, half of the Somalis reported that they definitely had been discriminated against when trying to rent or buy an apartment....

Indicators of mental health also point to a worse position for Somalis. In a study of different immigrant groups in Norway, more Somalis than most other refugee groups reported that they had nervous symptoms.... Literature from other Western countries, such as Australia, the UK, Canada and Finland, reveals very much the same picture of the situation for Somali refugees.... Chronic unemployment, poor housing, illiteracy and consequent problems in accessing mainstream social and educational services are typical for Somalis both in the UK and in Norway....

A study of Somali refugees in Canada shows that they encounter considerable difficulties during the initial stages of resettlement. They face social exclusion and multiple forms of disadvantages including high unemployment, underemployment, and overcrowding, as well as frustrations and despair that sometimes result in suicidal behaviour, particularly among the young males.... In a Finnish study, Somalis faced more negative attitudes and experienced more racist crimes than any other immigrant groups Somalis in Norway have been stigmatized by both media and officials as the worst case group of refugees.
While the U.S. cannot be held responsible for every case of civil war and unrest in the world, this government seems to have done its best to worsen matters, and in some very extreme, cynical ways.
The UN World Food Program is trying to help by sending food to over 2 million Somalis. They explain:
Somalia remains in a precarious food security situation, the result of more than 15 years of civil conflict, recurrent drought, crop failures and severe floods. Chronic food shortages and malnutrition persist.

Global acute malnutrition rates are above the emergency level. Poor road conditions and insecurity pose a major challenge in food aid delivery in the south, especially during the rainy season.
If any readers have any good links for donations to refugees in Somalia, please leave them in the comments section. Otherwise, you can go to the UN World Food Program website and make a contribution.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Raskolnikov's Dream

From the last chapter of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (the Constance Garnett translation):
He was in the hospital from the middle of Lent till after Easter. When he was better, he remembered the dreams he had had while he was feverish and delirious. He dreamt that the whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen. Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them became at once mad and furious. But never had men considered themselves so intellectual and so completely in possession of the truth as these sufferers, never had they considered their decisions, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible. Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection. All were excited and did not understand one another. Each thought that he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others, beat himself on the breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite. They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other. The alarm bell was ringing all day long in the towns; men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was summoning them no one knew. The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because every one proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and they could not agree. The land too was abandoned. Men met in groups, agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other. There were conflagrations and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction. The plague spread and moved further and further. Only a few men could be saved in the whole world. They were a pure chosen people, destined to found a new race and a new life, to renew and purify the earth, but no one had seen these men, no one had heard their words and their voices.

A Recommendation: "Torture Amnesia -- Shame on America"

Truong Son Traveler has written one of the best blog essays on the history of the torture issue in the United States, and I highly recommend readers of this blog take some time to read it. Titled Torture Amnesia -- Shame on America, it's written by someone who saw torture used first hand in Vietnam. The essay begins with the memory of that horrible encounter:
There are some things one never forgets. I'll never forget my brief encounter with torture 40 years ago. Our patrol engaged some VC hidden in a tree-line and a firefight ensued. The tree-line held a small hamlet. Predictably the village people fled in our direction. They fled because they knew their village would most likely be shelled, strafed or bombed. It was.

Our Viet counterparts detained a young lady they suspected of being a VC, a nurse they claimed. We brought her back to our dilapidated compound where they bound her, stripped off her shirt and attached wires to her nipples and proceed to use a crank operated electrical device to shock her. Needless to say it was thoroughly disgusting. Through it all she refused to talk. I admired her courage. I don't know where they sent her but I hope she survived.

McCain and the Cross of Coal: GOP Front-Runner Tied to Theft of Navajo Lands

According to an article over at the American Computer Science Organization:
A public research website: has brought together diverse historical elements of factual proof that Senator John McCain's was the key "point man" introducing, enacting and enforcing law that removed Dineh-Navajo Families from their reservation on the Black Mesa in Arizona. The McCain revised law relocated them to Church's Hill, Nevada (a Nuclear Waste Superfund Site, called "the New Lands" in PL 93-531). The Dineh-Navajo, a deeply spiritual and peaceful people, engaged in only peaceful resistance to being moved off lands they'd owned since 1500 A.D. Nonetheless, the Public Press and UN depicted brutalization, rights deprivation and forcible relocation.
The cain2008 website quotes from the UN report directly:
"The Black Mesa region in Arizona, USA is home to the indigenous communities of the Dineh (Navajo) and Hopi peoples. This region also contains major deposits of coal which are being extracted by North America's largest strip mining operation. The coal mines have had a major impact on families in the region. Local water sources have been poisoned, resulting in the death of livestock. Homes near the mines suffer from blasting damage. The coal dust is pervasive, as well as smoke from frequent fires in the stockpiles. Not coincidentally, the people in the area have an unusually high incidence of kidney and respiratory disease."

"The Dineh (otherwise known as Navajo) were stripped of all land title and forced to relocate. Their land was turned over to the coal companies without making any provisions to protect the burial or sacred sites that would be destroyed by the mines. People whose lives were based in their deep spiritual and life-giving relationship with the land were relocated into cities, often without compensation, forbidden to return to the land that their families had occupied for generations. People became homeless with significant increases in alcoholism, suicide, family break up, emotional abuse and death."

-- Marsha Monestersky for the UN Commission on Human Rights and Women Enacting Change at the UN
Will we hear more about the plight of the Sovereign Dineh Nation (SDN) in the mainstream media, or from the Democratic candidates? I won't hold my breath, as Native American issues don't even seem to register on their radar. That was made more than clear when Democratic President Bill Clinton left American Indian Movement [AIM] leader Leonard Peltier to rot in prison on frame-up murder charges, after already serving 25 years. Oh, and this was despite pleas for executive clemency for Peltier from Coretta Scott King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Humans Rights, among others.

The Minnesota History Society briefly describes AIM's history:
AIM's leaders spoke out against high unemployment, slum housing, and racist treatment, fought for treaty rights and the reclamation of tribal land, and advocated on behalf of urban Indians whose situation bred illness and poverty. They opened the K-12 Heart of the Earth Survival School in 1971, and in 1972, mounted the Trail of Broken Treaties march on Washington, D.C., where they took over the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), in protest of its policies, and with demands for their reform.

The revolutionary fervor of AIM's leaders drew the attention of the FBI and the CIA, who then set out to crush the movement.
Leonard Peltier was a victim of the FBI program, Cointelpro. But it's not just secretive policies of the FBI and CIA. Mainstream politicians have participated in the rape and destruction of Native Americans since this nation's inception. Politicans like McCain work in tandem with the repressive apparatus of the state to line the pockets of the coal, mining and energy companies at the expense of the lives of poor Native Americans, mindlessly destroying their cultures in the process.

John McCain's lurid participation in the latest scandal is part of a terrible history, part of a history that must be cleaned up if this country is to survive in any effective sense, and not continue its dizzying descent into moral and economic chaos and violent repression.

Hat tip to Winter Rabbit for alerting me to this story. See her excellent article on it at Daily Kos.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Tale of Two Letters, or On Moral Courage and Moral Cowardice

Kenneth S. Pope, Ph.D., a distinguished psychological researcher, and former Ethics chair for the American Psychological Association, as well as a recipient of the APA Distinguished Contribution to Psychology Award, has resigned from APA. He argues that in the post-9/11 environment, APA has changed its ethical stance in a way that distorts the principles of ethical psychological practice. In particular, he singles out APA's stance toward the treatment of detainees in Bush's "war on terror" prisons.

The letter is published at Counterpunch, and at Dr. Pope's own website, and is reproduced below, followed by another letter, from APA's President and Chief Executive Officer to Attorney General Mukasey. Both are printed in juxtaposition here, as they offer an interesting contrast in emphases. First, Dr. Pope: Why I Resigned from the American Psychological Association.
Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D.
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE Washington, DC 20002-4242

Dear Alan,

With sadness I write to resign from the American Psychological Association. My respect and affection for the members, along with my 29 year history with APA, make this a hard and reluctant step. Chairing the Ethics Committee, holding fellow status in 9 divisions, and receiving the APA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public Service, the Division 12 Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Clinical Psychology, and the Division 42 Award for Mentoring reflect a few chapters in my APA history. I respectfully disagree with decisive changes that APA has made in its ethical stance during the past 6+ years. These changes moved APA far from its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values, and beyond what I can in good conscience support with my membership.

I would like to note two examples of disagreement. First, the years since 9-11 brought concern over psychologists' work that affects detainees. APA has stressed psychologists' "vital role" regarding "the use of ethical interrogations to safeguard the welfare of detainees" and ways that psychologists "help advance the cause of detainee welfare and humane treatment." Yet in its ethics code, APA chose not to recognize any humane treatment requirements governing psychologists' work with detainees as enforceable standards.

Historically, when concerns arose about the impact of psychologists' behavior on groups at risk, APA moved decisively to create specific requirements and limitations in the ethics code's enforceable standards. These groups included persons "for whom testing is mandated by law or governmental regulations," "persons with a questionable capacity to consent," research participants, "subordinates," clients, students, supervisees, and employees. Facing concerns about the impact of psychologists' behavior on research animals, for example, APA created an enforceable standard supporting the "humane treatment" of laboratory animals. But for detainees, APA chose not to adopt any enforceable standards in the ethics code mandating humane treatment.

The code's numbered ethical standards "set forth enforceable rules of conduct." The code emphasizes that although other code sections should be given consideration, even the code's "Preamble and General Principles are not themselves enforceable rules..." APA's decision to adopt an enforceable standard regarding "humane treatment" of animals but not to adopt an enforceable standard regarding "humane treatment" of detainees turns APA away from its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values that should endure even in the midst of post-9-11 risks and realities.

My second area of disagreement concerns the ethics code that Council adopted August 21, 2002 (which took effect June 1, 2003). The 2002 code echoes the earlier code in setting forth the following enforceable standard: "If psychologists' ethical responsibilities conflict with law, regulations, or other governing legal authority, psychologists make known their commitment to the Ethics Code and take steps to resolve the conflict." But the 2002 code created a new enforceable standard: "If the conflict is unresolvable via such means, psychologists may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority" (Standard 1.02).

This new enforceable standard, in my opinion, contradicts one of the essential ethical values voiced in the Nuremberg trials. Even in light of the post-9-11 historical context and challenges, I believe we can never abandon the fundamental ethical value affirmed at Nuremberg.

An attempt to modify Standard 1.02 was placed only in the nonenforceable section. In the 5 years since creating this new enforceable ethical standard in a sharp break with the past, APA chose to make no qualifications, restrictions, or other modifications to Standard 1.02 in the code's enforceable section.

The code's 89 enforceable standards identify diverse ethical responsibilities, some representing the profession's deepest values. The code recognizes that these ethical values can stand in stark, irreconcilable conflict (no matter what steps the psychologist takes to resolve the conflict) with a regulation, a law, or governing legal authority. APA's creation of an enforceable standard allowing psychologists to violate these fundamental ethical responsibilities in favor of following a regulation, a law, or a governing legal authority clashes with its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values.

Such changes in APA's approach to its enforceable ethical standards over the past 6+ years embrace issues of enormous complexity and conflicting values. I've tried during these years to read as widely and carefully as possible in these diverse areas, comparing secondary sources to primary sources and evaluating claims in light of evidence. On one narrow topic, for example, I've read and maintained an archive of citations of over 220 published works (including those from APA) that specifically address the controversy over physicians and psychologists participating in the planning and implementation of detainee interrogations. (The archive is at:

Over the decades I've written articles and books examining APA's earliest discussions about ethical responsibilities and accountability, the choice to create an ethics code, the innovative methods used to create a unique code, the revisions and controversies over the years, and APA members' ethical views, dilemmas, and behavior. During the code's distinguished history, it has set forth APA's essential ethics and the standards to which members agree to hold themselves accountable through the Ethics Committee's formal enforcement. For me, the two examples above represent defining issues for APA. Steps that APA has taken or avoided since 9-11 mark a sharp shift in values and direction. I respectfully disagree with these changes; I am skeptical that they will work as intended; and I believe that they may lead to far-reaching unintended consequences.

These changes take APA so far away from its ethical foundation, historic traditions, and basic values, and from my own personal and professional view of our responsibilities, that I cannot support them with my membership. In light of my respectful disagreement with APA about these fundamental changes, it is with great sadness and regret that I resign my membership.


Ken Pope

Next, I reproduce, in part, a letter from Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., and Norman Anderson, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, respectively, of the APA. The letter can be found at APA's ethics webpage. Characteristically, as part of its faux-open bureaucratic style, APA has posted the letter in a way that text can not be simply reproduced (PDF format, non-textual). But I will give the best transcription I can. It is addressed to "The Honorable Michael B. Mukasey." I will only add here that this letter was dated 2/5/08, only days after Mukasey told a Senate committee that the question whether waterboarding is torture, even when performed upon a U.S. citizen, was "unresolved" in his mind. The impact of APA's letter was telling in its non-relevance. The day after APA released its letter, the CIA admitted torturing/waterboarding at least three detainees, and the day after that, the "honorable" Mukasey announced there would be no investigation or prosecutions for this illegal behavior

The letter (bolded quotes below are in original):
Dear Attorney General Mukasey,

We are writing on behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA) to call upon you to safeguard the human rights and physical and psychological welfare of individuals detained by the U.S. government. APA... unequivocally condemns the use of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of punishment under any conditions, including the detention and interrogation of "enemy combatants," as defined by the U.S. Military Commissions Act of 2006... Accordingly, we urge you to establish policies and procedures that fully protect the human rights of detainees, including judicial review of their detentions.

In separate letters to President Bush and CIA Director Hayden, we called upon the Administration to expand the July 2007 Executive Order to clarify that waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques, which are considered torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of punishment under the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and APA's 2006 and 2007 Resolutions Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, shall not be used or condoned by the U.S. government. APA's 2007 Resolution calls for the prohibition of all the 19 interrogations techniques specified, as well as any and all others that constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. We continue to urge the Administration to disallow any testimony resulting from the use of any interrogation technique that constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of punishment.

We now call upon you, as Attorney General, to expedite the review of the Office of Legal Counsel opinions that have provided the basis for the Administration's use of waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques. It is also critical that a legal opinion be rendered specifically on waterboarding, despite claims that is is no longer necessary.... A thorough analysis of waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques would carry out the intent you expressed during your Senate confirmation hearings to carefully examine the legality of these practices. We look foward to a public report of your investigation and findings.

Psychologists consulting to the military and intelligence communities, like their colleagues in domestic forensic settings, use their expertise to promote the use of effective and ethical interrogations, while safguarding the welfare of interrogators and detainees. It is unethical for a psychologist to plan, design, or assist, either directly or indirectly, in interrogation techniques delineated in APA's 2007 resolution....

There are no exceptional circumstances to these prohibitions, including laws, regulations, orders, or circustances induced by a state of war, threat of war, or any other public emergency. APA's 2007 resolution makes clear that conditions of confinement (e.g., lack of human rights protections) -- not just specific interrogation techniques -- can constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Accordingly, APA will support psychologists who refuse to work in settings in which the human rights of detainees are not protected.

I'm sorry, but I must interrupt for a little editorializing here, as the disingenuousness and unctiousness of APA's missive to Mukasey is almost too much to bear. In an article by AP the other day, revealing the existence of the heretofore mysterious Camp 7 at Guantanamo, we find a startling admission by APA Council member Colonel Larry James. James is the chief psychologist at Guantanamo, assisting interrogations there. He was also a member of APA's notorious PENS committee, and a key speaker against a moratorium on psychologist participation in national security interrogations at APA's 2007 convention. His demagogic claim at the convention about what would happen if APA passed the moratorium resolution -- "If we remove psychologists from these facilities, people are going to die" -- showed how the naked hand of fear was used to manipulate psychologists in the halls of its own convention.

What we have is APA claiming in its letter to Mukasey that it would support psychologists who refuse to work in inhumane settings. They also claim that psychologists work to make interrogations safe and humane. APA's letter makes no mention of the revelations in late 2007 about use of isolation, sensory deprivation and other abusive conditions at Guanatanamo, made notorious via leaks of Guatanamo Standard Operations Procedures by the watchdog Wikileaks website. So it was all the more startling when the "best" of APA got their chance to weigh in on humiliating and torturous conditions at a secret camp within Guantanamo, Col. James showed what stuff he and his supporters are really made of.

From the AP report (emphases are mine):

Army Col. Larry James, whose team of psychologists assists interrogators, said he does not want to know where Camp 7 is.

"I learned a long, long time ago, if I'm going to be successful in the intel community, I'm meticulously — in a very, very dedicated way — going to stay in my lane," he said. "So if I don't have a specific need to know about something, I don't want to know about it. I don't ask about it."

So, dear readers, as I conclude this tale of two letters -- the telling of which I leave mostly to their juxtaposition -- consider the words of APA's man at Guantanamo and how they measure up to APA's public letter to Bush's minion, Mukasey, continued below:
Moreover, psychologists with knowledge of the use of any prohibited interrogation technique have an ethical responsibility to inform their superiors and the relevant office of inspectors general, as appropriate, and to cooperate fully with all government oversight activities to ensure that no individual is subjected to this type of treatment.

We look foward to working with the Administration and Congress to develop policies on interrogation that provide for effective and ethical means to elicit information to prevent acts of violence. Our own work in this area is ongoing, and we plan to make available a casebook and commentary to provide guidance on the interpretation of our resolution. If you have any qustions or would like additional information, please have your office contact APA's Director of Ethics, Stephen Behnke, J.D., Ph.D., at (202) 336-6006 or at

Much further could be written about the sly legalistic lies hidden within APA's letter, and about its disingenousness. One could note the many insufficiencies of APA's resolutions, as the letter has nary a word of the various loopholes concerning use of drugs, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation and overload upon detainees that exist in APA's 2007 resolution and its so-called prohibition of 19 techniques. Or one could go into some detail about how the emphasis on "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" masks a reliance on special legal interpretations of the relevant national and international laws and treaties which allows for, in fact, much use of coercive interrogation techniques.

For now, I must let this long blog entry end. Interested readers can pursue my own recent letter of resignation from APA for further discussion of these issues. I also refer readers to the excellent recent article by Brad Olson, Ph.D. and Martha Davis, Ph.D. in the latest National Psychologist, APA and the Myths and Costs of Endorsing Psychologist Involvement in Detainee Interrogations.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: Corporations Spy on Citizens for the FBI

Both The Progressive and the ACLU have stories up over on their sites about how the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have recruited tens of thousands of members of corporate America to be the "eyes and ears" of the government. In return, they receive secret briefing on terrorism. The program is called InfraGard, and from The Progressive story:
The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does—and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government, which alarms the ACLU. But there may be more to it than that. One business executive, who showed me his InfraGard card, told me they have permission to “shoot to kill” in the event of martial law.

InfraGard is “a child of the FBI,” says Michael Hershman, the chairman of the advisory board of the InfraGard National Members Alliance and CEO of the Fairfax Group, an international consulting firm.
Much of this information is contained in a 38-page ACLU report, "The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society." Of course, one can go and check out InfraGard's own website:
InfraGard is an information sharing and analysis effort serving the interests and combining the knowledge base of a wide range of members. At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the private sector. InfraGard is an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. InfraGard Chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories.

This is all very scary stuff, as Daily Kos writer Sick of It notes in his essay on the subject (and a hat tip to him/her for bringing this to my attention). I highly recommend checking out all the links provided here, and especially the ACLU report. As they describe it themselves, the report covers:
Recruiting Individuals. Documents how individuals are being recruited to serve as "eyes and ears" for the authorities even after Congress rejected the infamous TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) program that would have recruited workers like cable repairmen to spy on their customers.
Recruiting Companies. Examines how companies are pressured to voluntarily provide consumer information to the government; the many ways security agencies can force companies to turn over sensitive information under federal laws such as the Patriot Act; how the government is forcing companies to participate in watchlist programs and in systems for the automatic scrutiny of individuals' financial transactions.
Mass Data Use, Public and Private. Focuses on the government's use of private data on a mass scale, either through data mining programs like the MATRIX state information-sharing program, or the purchase of information from private-sector data aggregators.
Pro-Surveillance Lobbying. Looks at the flip side of the issue: how some companies are pushing the government to adopt surveillance technologies and programs based on private-sector data.
The Progressive article details more how closely the FBI works with its new corporate associates:
FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed an InfraGard convention on August 9, 2005. At that time, the group had less than half as many members as it does today. “To date, there are more than 11,000 members of InfraGard,” he said. “From our perspective that amounts to 11,000 contacts . . . and 11,000 partners in our mission to protect America.” He added a little later, “Those of you in the private sector are the first line of defense.”

He urged InfraGard members to contact the FBI if they “note suspicious activity or an unusual event.” And he said they could sic the FBI on “disgruntled employees who will use knowledge gained on the job against their employers.”
It is necessary to fight back against this ominious threat against our civil liberties. The ACLU is asking people
to contact prominent companies - such as drugstore chains, insurance companies and retailers - to ask them to take a "no-spy pledge" to defend their customers' privacy against government intrusion. A list of suggested companies for consumers to contact is available online at

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Wages of Fear: What the Waterboarding Debate is Really About

In the famous verse from Romans 6:23, "the wages of sin is death." For U.S. policymakers (for the entire government is now implicated in this, not just the Bush Administration), terrorism is the ultimate "sin." And if they capture you and believe or choose to believe you are a terrorist, then you, or anyone, can expect waterboarding and other forms of "enhanced interrogation" torture. Worst of all, you will certainly fear them. And that fear is debilitating over time. It breaks a person down psychologically. Of course, that is the whole point of the whole waterboarding brouhaha.

Yesterday the White House announced what we already knew in our heart of hearts was their position.

Waterboarding is legal, White House says:
WASHINGTON -- The White House said Wednesday that the widely condemned interrogation technique known as waterboarding is legal and that President Bush could authorize the CIA to resume using the simulated-drowning method under extraordinary circumstances.

The surprise assertion from the Bush administration reopened a debate that many in Washington had considered closed. Two laws passed by Congress in recent years -- as well as a Supreme Court ruling on the treatment of detainees -- were widely interpreted to have banned the CIA's use of the extreme interrogation method.

But in remarks that were greeted with disbelief by some members of Congress and human rights groups, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said that waterboarding was a legal technique that could be employed again "under certain circumstances."
The day before:
CIA Director Michael V. Hayden acknowledged that his agency used the simulated-drowning technique on Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, his lieutenant, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a suspect in the USS Cole bombing in Yemen in 2000.
Finally, today Michael Mukasey demonstrated that he can drink the kool-aid with the best of them, telling House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers that the waterboarding of past suspects in the "war on terror" will not be prosecuted because they were, at the time -- surprise! -- "authorized."

From today's Washington Post (emphases in bold are added):
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Mukasey said that because waterboarding was part of a program approved by Justice lawyers, there is no way the department can open a criminal investigation into the practice....

"That would mean that the same department that authorized the program would now prosecute someone for taking part" in it, he said.

Mukasey's remarks were a direct rebuff to demands from many leading Democrats this week that the Justice Department open a criminal probe into the CIA's use of waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning in an attempt to force information from a prisoner.

The statements also appear to conflict with his testimony in the Senate last week, when Mukasey said on several occasions that a special U.S. attorney's probe into the CIA's destruction of videotapes could be expanded to include a probe of interrogation tactics shown on the tapes.
I'd add that the statements also appear to conflict with basic decency and humanity, but then, that's me.

Meanwhile, in a just released story:
Lawyers representing one current Guantanamo detainee tell TIME that they plan to present evidence that he was subjected to videotaped interrogation, in addition to unspecified "systematic torture" when he was held in secret CIA prisons. The lawyers, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based legal non-profit with a long record of advocacy for prisoners at Guantanamo, note that their client has said the videotaping occurred after his arrest in 2003.
The Guantanmo detainee in question is 27 year old Majid Khan. Arrested in Pakistan, and ultimately transferred to Guantanamo with other "high-level detainees," like Khalid Sheik Mohammad, Khan's case threatens to break through the legal restrictions of secrecy surrounding the government's "terror" prosecutions:
Khan's lawyers have said their client has gone on a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his confinment, and appears pale and gaunt. In the course of meetings with counsel and the Red Cross, Khan also handed over neatly penned, handwritten letters. Several have been made public, after heavy redactions imposed by U.S. military censors. One of Khan's messages begins: "In this letter I am going to mention some of the things I have been through." Then the next 19 lines of text are blacked out.

But Khan's private declarations to his lawyers cannot be censored, and it is those that the Intelligence Committee will hear on Friday. His allegations come at a time when Congress is considering passage of a new intelligence bill that would effectively outlaw many of the CIA's interrogation methods by forcing the Agency to use only those techniques permitted in the U.S. Army Field Manual.
While it will be good to hear evidence examined without censorship, I want to concentrate at this point on the last claim in the Time quote above.

Why Can't They Torture the Good Way?

The ACLU and other liberals (and even some Republican types, most famously GOP candidate John McCain) make a big deal out of the fact that the Army Field Manual proscribes waterboarding and other "enhanced" forms of interrogation. It's as if the AFM provides a good set of non-coercive techniques, as asserted in Senate hearings the other day.
Both Robert S. Mueller III, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers that their agencies had successfully obtained valuable intelligence from terrorism suspects without using what Mr. Mueller called the “coercive” methods of the C.I.A.

But [CIA Director] General Hayden bristled when asked about Congressional attempts to mandate that C.I.A. interrogators be required to use the more limited set of interrogation methods contained in the Army Field Manual, which is used by military interrogators.
For Hayden and his administration backers, the CIA is a special case. But then, it has been for six decades now, as the agency has engaged in assassinations, coup d'etats abroad, organized secret armies, and both researched and engaged in torture (also taught to willing overseas acolytes serving U.S. client states).

But no matter what Hayden or the ACLU says, no matter what Senators Hagel and Feinstein advocate respecting interrogation guidelines in their new intelligence bill, the Army Field Manual is not about non-coercive interrogation. The military lawyers who drafted the AFM waited to the end of the document to provide the proverbial fine print about certain "restricted" techniques, describing them in an obviously little-read "appendix" (Appendix M).

From an earlier article of mine:
Briefly, it allows for complete separation, sometimes with forced wearing of goggles and earmuffs, for up to 30 days (after which approval for more must be sought). It allows for keeping sleep to four hours a day, for 30 straight days. It allows for the use of other concurrent techniques, including "futility", "incentive", and "fear up" (It does ban "hooding").

Maybe you heard of "fear up" and "futility"? They're listed in CJTF-7 Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy, authored by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in 2003:
Fear Up Harsh: Significantly increasing the fear level in a detainee [usually through invoking a detainee's phobias, if known]....

Fear Up Mild: Moderately increasing the fear level in a detainee.....

Futility: Invoking the feeling of futility of a detainee.
....What does separation or isolation do to an individual? In a review by Lawrence Hinkle Jr, written back in 1961, it was understood how debilitating this technique was, causing "disordered brain function"....
It is well known that prisoners, especially if they have not been isolated before, may develop a syndrome similar in most of its features to the "brain syndrome"... they cease to care about their utterances, dress, and cleanliness. They become dulled, apathetic, and depressed. In due time they become disoriented and confused; their memories become defective and they experience hallucinations and delusions. In these circumstances their capacity of judgment and discrimination is much impaired, and they readily succumb to their need for talk and companionship; but their ability to impart accurate information may be as much impaired as their capacity to resist an interrogator.

Classically, isolation has been used as a means of "making a man talk," simply because it is so often associated with a deterioration of thinking and behavior and is accompanied by an intense need for companionship and for talk. From the interogator's viewpoint it has seemed to be the ideal way of "breaking down" a prisoner, because, to the unsophisticated, it seems to create precisely the state that the interrogator desires... However, the effect of isolation upon the brain function of the prisoner is much like that which occurs if he is beaten, starved, or deprived of sleep.
"Physiological State of the Interrogation Subject" in The Manipulation of Human Behavior, 1961, John Wiley & Sons.
Waterboarding: Who Benefits... and How?

The administration back and forth on the subject of waterboarding can represent both fear in such circles over eventual prosecution, or a clever campaign to keep one's enemies off-guard regarding U.S. interrogation practices. Things got even murkier this very afternoon, as CIA Director Michael Hayden evidently told the House Intelligence Committee, in what must have been a busy day of hearings on Capitol Hill, that "in my own view, the view of my lawyers and the Department of Justice, it is not certain that that technique would be considered to be lawful under current statute." Of course, he also maintains it was legal back in 2002 and 2003, when they used it. Get it? Got it? Good.

The CIA as an institution is all about misdirection and secrecy. It is both their ethos and their M.O. Everything I have learned about the history and practice of torture in the U.S. leads me to believe that the public story is not the full story. While there is fear about prosecution among individual interrogators in the field, the recent obfuscatory statements and actions by administration officials points to a more ominious conclusion: the CIA wants to keep waterboarding as an option, at least in the mind of the public. This is part of a torture paradigm that is centered around Fear, not just physical abuse. The CIA, and also the Army Field Manual, center the coercive portion of their agenda around the right to induce fear, whether by threatening waterboarding of prisoners, or whatever else they may do to produce Fear Up Harsh, the better to heighten anxiety and dependency in those they interrogate (torture). That's how they use and understand torture, and the sooner we all understand that, the better.

Mukasey's statement that there would be no waterboarding prosecution may make it a red letter day for government interrogators and torturers. It goes without saying that it is a dark day for this country as a whole.

Monday, February 4, 2008

On Prestige and Power and War Crimes

I wrote about this only a few weeks ago, but I still can't get my head around how this story played out in the press. (I could cite many more examples of this national noblesse oblige, such as revelations from the Downing Street Memo, on Abu Ghraib, on illegal wiretapping, on secret prisons, etc.)

From the Center for Public Integrity:
President George W. Bush and seven of his administration's top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses....

In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003.
I simply can't understand why this story hasn't gotten more traction. As a matter of sound evidence of governmental deception and war crimes, it couldn't be clearer. Yet, at the mageristerial press conferences and speeches by governmental personnel, we witness continuing deference, and acceptance of lies and spins, with the promise of cocktail parties later for the "in" crowd who never make waves. Is it really all about access to power?

Who has more prestige than the powerful? Where can we find more deception than in the highest echelons of the societal apparatus?

1546, "practicing illusion or magic, deceptive," from L. præstigious "full of tricks," from præstigiæ "juggler's tricks," probably altered by dissimilation from præstringere "to blind, blindfold, dazzle," from præ- "before" + stringere "to tie or bind" (see strain (v.)). Prestige is from 1656, from Fr. prestige "an illusion" (16c.). These words were derogatory until 19c.; prestige in the sense of "dazzling influence" was first applied 1815, to Napoleon. Prestigious with this sense is attested from 1913
Privilege is prestige, and prestige, in its fundamental nature as in the etymology of the word, means deception and enchantment. Again the line of development is continuous from the magician-leader of the simpler societies to the priest-king or god-king of the first civilization, as indeed Frazer showed fifty years ago.

Power was originally sacred, and it remains so in the modern world. Again we must not be misled by the flat antimony of the sacred and the secular, and interpret as "secularization" what is only a metamorphosis of the sacred. If there is a class which has nothing to lose but its chains, the chains that bind it are self-imposed, sacred obligations which appear as objective realities with all the force of a neurotic delusion. (Life Against Death, Norman O. Brown, Vintage Books, 1959, p. 252)
What else but neurotic delusion or mass denial could account for the fact that U.S. citizens have failed to react to the fact that its government has in the past five years killed over one million people? As Reuters reports:
LONDON (Reuters) - More than one million Iraqis have died as a result of the conflict in their country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to research conducted by one of Britain's leading polling groups.

The survey, conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB) with 2,414 adults in face-to-face interviews, found that 20 percent of people had had at least one death in their household as a result of the conflict, rather than natural causes....

The margin of error in the survey, conducted in August and September 2007, was 1.7 percent, giving a range of deaths of 946,258 to 1.12 million.
The Reuters story notes the now long-simmering controversy over the Iraq death toll. The OMB poll results are themselves a reduction from a study OMB initially reported last September that found 1.2 million Iraqis had died as the result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A Lancet study in 2004 found 100,000 had died as a result of the initial U.S. invasion. A second study in 2006 reported "654,965 excess deaths related to the war, or 2.5% of the population."

The website Iraq Body Count reports between 80,000 and 90,000 civilian deaths due to the war to date. But then IBC uses a "media-centered" approach to body counting:
The project uses reports from English-language news media (including Arabic media translated into English) to compile a running total. In its "Quick-FAQ" the IBC states: "It is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media. That is the sad nature of war."
The statistical approach of the ORB is said to have the backing of many statisticians and epidemiologists, who use many of the same techniques in other studies of populations. Indeed, the U.S. Census uses household sampling methodologies, although not without its own concurrent controversies. (See this excellent article at Science News for a relevant discussion of statistical sampling issues.)

To make matters worse, counting Iraqi bodies has become even more difficult since "the surge," i.e., the escalation of the war. the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq discovered early last year, verifying the numbers independently is impossible because, since the U.S. escalation nicknamed the "surge" began one year ago, the Iraqi government has refused to share its raw mortality data with UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] or other outside sources. Many human rights advocates, including UN Human Rights Officer Ivana Vucco, have said this step was taken under pressure from the United States to conceal the real level of violence.
No matter how you want to look at it, the U.S. government is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. And not the government only as a whole, but specific people in the government, individuals who are as directly responsible as the Nuremburg defendents were for the crimes of Hitler's regime. But you wouldn't know it if you watched the mass media spectacle that is modern America.

The famous playwright Arthur Miller is reported to have said that an era only comes to an end when its basic illusions are exhausted. The era of U.S. imperial policy and war hubris is not over. The illusions of much of the population in the goodness and right of the government, and the elite that staffs the top layers of government, remain alive, and seemingly oblivious to change. Yet underneath it all, the worm of change and transformation silently gnaws, and the presitigious apparatus that girds the temples and monuments of power awaits its Ozymandian moment.

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