Saturday, March 29, 2008

Treatment for Torture Survivors: Getting Out the Word

Dr. Kenneth Pope, who resigned the American Psychological Association earlier this year, in protest of APA's sorry ethical record in opposing U.S. torture interrogations, has posted a page at his website that lists resources for torture survivors, refugees and asylum seekers. With over 130 links, a person in need can quickly find how to contact major torture treatment centers, legal services, information about asylum and refuge, networks of torture survivors, clinical assessment assistance, and much more.

Activists are making an attempt to spread this list far and wide, so those in need can find help. Please help by distributing this link.

Dr. Pope also keeps a list of articles that address Psychologists' & Physicians' Involvement in Detainee Interrogations. Readers of this blog will find much material of interest there.

Friday, March 28, 2008

McCain Croons Bombing of Iran, While Baghdad Burns

The obscenity that is American politics, circa 2008.

This is funny, and the Reverend Wright's comments are outrageous? What planet am I living on?

Meanwhile, Bush is having his second delusional bout of "mission accomplished" buried by an Iraqi offensive that has all but shut down the Green Zone, with all of Baghdad on 24 hour curfew.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Baghdad was on virtual lockdown Friday as a tough new curfew ordered everyone off the streets of the Iraqi capital and five other cities until 5 p.m. Sunday.

Iraqis survey damage to their home Friday in Baghdad's Sadr City after residents reported a U.S. airstrike.

1 of 3 That restriction didn't stop someone from firing rockets and mortar rounds into the capital's heavily fortified International Zone, commonly known as the Green Zone. One slammed into the office of one of Iraq's vice presidents, Tareq al-Hashemi, killing two guards.
Chris Floyd has his own take on "Operation Permanent Presence."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Unbelievable" Abuse Reigns in Iraqi Jails

Released yesterday by Wikileaks, and seen for the first time (links within quoted material, and bolded emphases, are added):
Confidential memo from Maj. Gen. Kelly, commander of US forces in western Iraq (MNF-W, or Multi-National Force — West), written in late February 2008. Privately verified by Wikileaks staff and not denied or contradicted by MNF-W when questioned by UPI's national security editor, Shaun Waterman.

Typed up version follows:

I spent the entire day inspecting the Fallujah city jail. I found the conditions there to be exactly (unbelivable over crowding, total lack of anything approaching even minimal levels of hygiene for human beings, no food, little water, no ventilation) to those described in the recent (18 February) FOX news artickle [sic] by Michael Totten entitled the "Dungeon of Fallujah". When queried the iraqis and marines present throughout my inspection as to why these conditions existed, three conditions were universaly cited as problems in Fallujah as well as the rest of Anbar. First, there is zero support from the government for any of the jails in Anbar. No funds, food or medical support has been provided from any ministry. Second, the police that run Anbar's jails are the same personnel responsable for investigating crimes. These jailer/investigators are undermanned and more often than not spend most of their time out begging and scavenging for food than investigating crimes. (It is unlikely the prisoners will eat today). Third, Anbar lacks trained Iraqi correctional officers (ICOS) to run the jails in Anbar. The development and employment of trained ICOS would enable the IP to focus on criminal investigation rather then jail supervision. I believe the Iraqi police are doing the best they can, and they literally begged me on humanitarian, moral and religious grounds to help them help the prisoners by somehow moving the government to action.

We need to go to general quarters on this issue right now. There are four areas that MNF-W needs immediate support with to correst these deficiencies. First, GOI must provide funfing support to provide care for Iraqi prisoners in Iraqi custody in Anbar. To state that the current system is broken would erroneously imply that there is a system in place to be broken. Most jails in Anbar have a mixed prisoner population of pre-trial prisoners and post-trial convicted prisoners. The ministry of Justice the latter. Since the Anbar jail population is mixed of interior and the ministry of Justice (MOJ). Second, Anbar needs ICO trainers to establish an ICO course in Anbar to develop and employ that capability province wide. Third, Anbar lacks a director general of MOJ for the province. Anbar needs one appointed and working in Anbar as soon as possible. Fourth, Iraqi security force funds (ISFF) must be made available to upgrade a majority of the correctional facilities within Anbar to comply with basic international standarts of care for prisoners.

One of the main goals of MNF-W is to successfully transition the IP from a security force to a professional law enforcement force. The Iraqi police will ultimately be the ones whose shoulders the burden of winning or losing the fight will be carried. To date, little attention has been paid to the Iraqi corrections system in Anbar and its current discrepancies will prevent the IP from becoming a professional law enforcement force unless immediate and significant support is provided. As I understand it the coalition has absolutely no authority to direct what goes on in these "facilities", and when we have intervened recently in other jails with the same conditions we have been criticized for not making the Iraqis solve their own problems. The conditions in these jails are so bad that I think we need to either take a TF-134 approach and that is to do the right thing in terms of caring for the prisoners even with our own dollars, or release them.
While Bush and his media toadies tout Anbar province as a "success" story for the "surge" and his predatory Iraq occupation in general, the conditions in the city jail speak a far different reality: of an inept, corrupt satrapy of a government, whose imperial masters flatter and support. Leave the jails with starving prisoners, says the "democratic" coalition. "Let them solve their own problems," announce the haughty leaders of the "free" world. In the degenerated world of modern America, freedom means, of course, freedom to starve.

(This is true even back in the "homeland," where it was announced just the other day that 1 in 10 Ohioans rely on inadequately funded food stamps to survive.)

And then U.S. citizens wonder why the "insurgents" continue to attack, why they "hate" us. And the rulers cry, more war!

(H/T to Trudy B.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bush & the Mathematics of War: 4000, 1 million, 2 million

So passes what the U.S. media brazenly call a milestone: the 4000th dead U.S. soldier in the war against, and occupation of, Iraq. I cannot grieve more than the family and loved ones of each of those 4000. Nor certainly approach the agony and world-hurling destruction of a society where hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million, are dead by airborne bomb, munitions shell, bullet, plague, beheading, chemical attack, human suicide bomb, and all the ways a human being can ponder in rending the body and soul of another human being to his or her final destiny.

The U.S. president, George W. Bush, has "vowed": long as I'm president to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain, that in fact there is an outcome that will merit the sacrifice"...
He, of course, means that the superprofits from exploitation of oil will be assured to the ruling class he serves. That the influence of the American bankers, industrialists, and its military machine, will not be subjected to the imprecations and influence of some smaller, merely nationalist entity, nor to the competitive combines of larger, more powerful nation states, such as France or Germany or China. As the largest child stands on the top of the hill, surveying the carnage of his peers who lie in the dust about him, Bush swears the sacrifice worth it. Except the analogy is flawed, as he is not the bloodied king of the hill, but the thoroughly corrupt leader of a government that lost its way in the labryinth of imperial lust a long time ago.

In American history, one would have to go back to the days of Tom Paine, to find a pen that could write with sufficient disgust, and with honor for the inherent dignity of humankind, of the kind of empire-building and blood-curdling talk of sacrifice of these new monarchs, self-satisfied rulers of America, who send young men and women to fight their greedy and arrogant wars.

Can we possibly suppose that if governments had originated in a right principle, and had not an interest in pursuing a wrong one, the world could have been in the wretched and quarrelsome condition we have seen it? What inducement has the farmer, while following the plough, to lay aside his peaceful pursuit, and go to war with the farmer of another country? or what inducement has the manufacturer? What is dominion to them, or to any class of men in a nation? Does it add an acre to any man's estate, or raise its value? Are not conquest and defeat each of the same price, and taxes the never-failing consequence? — Though this reasoning may be good to a nation, it is not so to a government. War is the Faro-table of governments, and nations the dupes of the game.
And the pawns of war are its refugees. In Iraq, the "success" of Bush's martial "surge" is belied by the attitude of the millions of refugees that previously fled the carnage imposed by the U.S. invasion and the resultant ethnic cleansing, as the U.S. maneuvered between the warring factions of a shattered society.
DAMASCUS, Syria: The much-heralded stream of Iraqi refugees back home to Iraq from Syria has slowed to a trickle, with many fearing that life in their homeland is still too dangerous despite improvements in security....

"To think of returning to Iraq is as bad as thinking of suicide," said Faten al-Samerrai, 42, who has been living in Damascus since 2006 with her husband and five children. "There is no future and no life in Iraq. There is only ruin."

She said life is not perfect in Damascus — but at least it's safe....

"I lost my son and my husband because of America," said Ikhlas al-Duleimi, a 36-year-old Sunni Muslim Iraqi in Syria. She added: "I wish Saddam's awful regime would return."
And so the great sacrifice of Bush comes full circle to the idealization of a tyrant that his own country put into power, deposed, and now restores to martyrdom. And this "noble" cause, this Iraq War of the Republicans and their Democratic Party enablers, claims its 4000th American corpse. The Iraqi bodies are not even counted by Bush and his government. That sacrifice might overwhelm the flimsy temple Bush is building for his unholy war.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

On Knowledge, Ignorance, and Pride

From Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile:
Human intelligence has its limits, and not only can a man not know everything, but he cannot even know in its entirety the little that other men know. Since the contrary of every false proposition is a truth, the number of truths is as unfathomable as the number of errors. We must, therefore, choose what to teach as well as when to teach it. Of the knowledge within our reach some is false, some is useless, some merely serves to feed the pride of him who has it....

Beware of the specious attraction of falsehood and the intoxicating fumes of pride. Remember, remember always, that ignorance never did any harm, that error alone is fatal, and that we do not lose our way because of what we do not know but because of what we think we know.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Short Takes: Obama, APA, & Omar Khadr

Arch-neocon William Kristol and the New York Times seem bent on shoving their racial swiftboating tactics down our throats. Kristol was forced to issue a partial retraction after writing a story that claimed Barack Obama lied when he said he wasn't present at a sermon by his pastor Jeremiah White that purportedly blamed "the 'arrogance' of the 'United States of White America' for much of the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks." Kristol and the right-wing want to paint Obama as a racial extremist, or someone who cynically manipulates racist extremists, and this to frighten white Americans.

Of course, Obama was never at such a sermon. And frankly, it wouldn't have mattered if he were. Obama spoke his piece on the anger of black America the other day, in a well-received speech on the impact of racial divisions on the United States. While I think Wright's comments weren't "divisive" -- comments Obama felt he had to disavow -- nevertheless, he said they were understandable, given the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and other racial discrimination. And that's more than any other U.S. politician would give towards the validation of black rage, much of it, as Obama pointed out, directed impotently at misplaced or non-powerful targets, or turned inward.


Noted bioethicist and physician, Steven Miles, comments favorably on my analysis of the APA's new resolution language concerning a ban on psychologist participation in torture in Bush's prison gulag abroad:
Valtin is correct. The February 22 APA statement entirely conforms to current US policy of lip service in public and war crimes in private.
Go read his entire comment.

Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association continues to do the dirty work for the Department of Defense. In past week, APA has been lobbying heavily to change the language of California State Senator Ridley-Thomas's resolution calling for California health-care professionals, including psychologists, to not work in the anti-human rights sewer that is Guantanamo, and other such prisons where torture and prisoner abuse has occurred. APA apparently was successful in getting the language of the resolution changed. Instead of an outright ban in participation at torture sites, the resolution now calls for non-participation only in interrogations that involve torture or abusive treatment.

This sounds good, but in reality it is a significant weakening of the resolution, rendering it all but meaningless. For one thing, it leave health care workers, and psychologists, especially, who staff the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams or BSCTs at Guantanamo and elsewhere, working in sites that do not allow basic human rights, such as habeas corpus. It also, as a recent article by intelligence and ethics experts Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD and David DeBatto (U.S. Army Counterintelligence Operative - ret.), point out in a recent article:
Many institutional factors combine to defeat APA principles on interrogation in national security settings under the Bush Administration....

In intelligence operations, information is passed to participants strictly on a “need to know” basis. Inasmuch as the February 2008 Modification prohibits psychologists from “knowingly planning, designing, participating in or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques,” it is a simple matter to withhold morally relevant information from psychologists and to provide cover stories....
APA leadership knows what it's doing in sending lobbyists around the country, weakening any resolution, bill, or determined effort to stop the psychological presence at DoD and CIA torture sessions. This keeps the APA in the good graces of Pentagon and intelligence agency high echelon. It also destroys whatever claims APA has to being an organization that stands for anything progressive, or even represents the beneficent practice of psychology in America.

Representatives of Physicians for Social Responsibility / Los Angeles, who along with the American Friends Service Committee have worked with Ridley-Thomas on the resolution, assure me that there is still time to change the language of the resolution. But while that means the resolution can be made stronger, it can also be weakened even more. And there's no sign that APA will further ignore this legislative initiative in California, which if it passes would be a serious black-eye for the Pentagon and Bush's torture apologists.


Meanwhile, in Guantanamo itself, Omar Khadr, now 21 years old, but 15 when Special Forces arrested him in Afghanistan, had his trial at the hands of the Pentagon's phony tribunal system postponed indefinitely by a judge, while the defense finally gets a chance to look at the "evidence" the government has against Khadr. Some of this evidence is exculpatory.

For instance, the U.S. has maintained that young Khadr was the only person left alive inside a house when a grenade was used to kill a U.S. Army Sargent. But now we know otherwise:
Last month, the testimony of a soldier identified only as "OC-1," accidentally released to the public, showed that another fighter was alive inside the Afghan compound where the 2002 firefight took place and a grenade was thrown at U.S. soldiers, killing one of them. Until last month's revelation, it had long been assumed that Mr. Khadr was the only person alive inside the compound, and so must have thrown the grenade. Mr. Khadr now faces multiple charges in connection to the incident, including murder.

The U.S. officer's diary, snippets of which were made public this week, confirms the OC-1 account that another fighter was alive....

"I remember looking over my right shoulder and seeing [edited out by government] just waste the guy who was still alive. He was shooting him with controlled pairs..." the officer writes, referring to bursts of gunfire.
The Globe and Mail article goes on to describe the political circumstance surrounding the decision to put Khadr on trial, while another article on the case at Adelaide Now details new charges concerning the treatment of Khadr in U.S. custody.

Omar Khadr was a minor for his first three years at Guantanamo. But after his arrest in July 2002, he was held at Bagram, Afghanistan, where he suffered the standard American abuse: hooding, threatened with dogs, water poured over him. But there were other threats:
"On several occasions at Bagram, interrogators threatened to have me raped, or sent to other countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Israel to be raped," Khadr said in the document.

He said interrogators told him at one point that the Egyptians wound send "Soldier No. 9" to rape him....

"While my wounds were still healing, interrogators made me clean the floors on my hands and knees. They woke me up in the middle of the night after midnight and made me clean the floor with a brush and dry it with towels until dawn, carry heavy buckets of water," he said.

Later at Guantanamo, Khadr said an Afghan with a US flag on his pants threatened to send him back to Afghanistan unless he cooperated, telling him: "They like small boys in Afghanistan."
Omar said in his recently released affidavit that he said whatever he could think of to stop the brutal interrogations, in which he was shackled for hours at a time, and not allowed to use a bathroom, to the point he urinated on himself. Until a Canadian judge refused access to Khadr by Canadian intelligence officers, because conditions at Guantanamo failed to meet the criteria of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canadian interrogators failed to intervene to stop any abuse. They were there, in part, to try and get the teenage Khadr to implicate Canadian torture rendition victim Maher Arar, among others, proving that Bush's "war on terror" torture campaign is an international affair.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Racist Reaction Accelerates Against Obama

Right-wing reactionaries thought manna had fallen from heaven along with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's denunciation of the crimes of America. That's because Rev. Wright is Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama's personal preacher. But while the demagogues falsely label Wright's sermons as racist and anti-white, his remarks express truths that resonate with the experience of black Americans and cannot be forever hidden.

Anyone can go and watch excerpts from Rev. Wright's sermons, edited for maximum incendiarism by arch-conservative, Fox Network Hyas muckamuck, Bill O'Reilly. Yet, all the editing tricks in the world cannot paint Wright's sermons racist. But then that's the cry raised when African-Americans say anything on the mark about the experience of racism in America, an experience that has made them sensitive to the crimes and injustices of this country perpetrated abroad, as well.

As if four hundred years of slavery, and one hundred years of Jim Crow state segregationism were not enough to prove the racist legacy of this country, African Americans are still subject to discrimination across the entire society, with inferior schools, inferior health care, wage discrepancies, housing discrimination, racist assaults, unfair drug laws and a still racially insensitive judicial system. CalexanderJ over at Daily Kos hit the mark with this quote from the comedian Chris Rock:
I think Chris Rock said it best when he said, "to blacks, America is like an uncle who paid your way through college, but molested you." This quip reflects our (African American’s) recognition of the vast benefits living in America has provided us which we are truly grateful for, but it also acknowledges that we haven’t forgotten, the travesties that America inflicted on our race.
Travesties like slavery, lynching, and segregation, laws against miscegenation, Nazi-like experimentation (Tuskegee), mandatory sterilization laws. And most of this, slavery aside, within the lifetimes of many Americans. It was only thirty or more years ago that the government's FBI targeted Black leaders with its COINTELPRO program, which included blackmail, the use of agents provocateur, and assassination.

Let's look at what Wright actually said

He said the U.S. is "a country and a culture controlled by rich white people." He dissed liberal saint Bill Clinton, whose wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, is running near neck and neck with Obama for the nomination. "Bill did us just like he did Monica Lewinsky." Suddenly, Jeremiah Wright is the only man in America that can't make a Monica Lewinsky joke.

But Bill Clinton's welfare "reform" was no joke to African Americans. Clinton lined up with Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" Republicans to pass a draconian welfare "reform" bill, which severely limited aid payments to poor families and many single mothers, who were disproportionately African-American. Millions were thrown off the welfare rolls, while the poverty rate continued to rise. Children were forced to fend for themselves as latch-key kids or join up with gangs, as single mothers worked part-time or low-paying jobs that barely made the bills, much less have the hundreds of dollars left over each month for decent childcare.

Reverend Wright denounced the government trafficking in drugs to support their right-wing insurgencies abroad, while building bigger prisons and passing onerous sentencing and drug laws at home, whose impact fell hardest upon black Americans.

Wright excoriated the U.S. government for its lies making false connections between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida (something the Pentagon owned up to, very reluctantly only last week), its lies about Iraqi WMD, and even more lies tying 9/11 to a rationale for the aggressive invasion of Iraq. Nor did Wright stop there in challenging the U.S. government for its history of support to the former apartheid of South Africa, and to the Israeli apartheid-like treatment of the Palestinians.

And nothing he said was wrong... unless it is his assertion, supported by many in the black community, that AIDS was some kind of plot by the government against black people. But after everything else, can you blame them? And, by the way, it's not like the United States and other countries haven't thought about aiming biological warfare against specific races and nationalities. New genetic engineering techniques and DNA mapping has brought the possibility of making "ethnic" weapons from fantasy to dangerous near-future threat. (See the discussion of this by the well-respected watchdog group, the Sunshine Project.)

But if Wright was off on AIDS, he nailed this country on its shameful indifference to its history of mass murder. "We bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki," Wright thundered, killing far more than the thousands who died on 9/11, "and we never batted an eye." If the preacher really wanted to nail the point home, he could have mentioned the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children killed by the U.S. in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Or, for an earlier generation, there were the one million Vietnamese killed by the U.S. in the 1960s-1970s.

Finally, perhaps, it was Wright's Malcolm X-like pronouncement that drove the racists into a frenzy. After John Kennedy was assassinated, Malcolm famously intoned that America's chickens had come home to roost. Knowing what we do now about CIA assassinations and assassination attempts during the Kennedy years against Castro, Lumumba, Diem, and others, Malcolm X's comment seems more prescient than any of the establishment pundits of his time.

Rev. Wright reminded his African-American congregation that 9/11 happened, in part, because the "stuff we did overseas is brought back into our backyards." In fact, the growth of Islamic fundamentalism was fueled by U.S. and Western backing of corrupt and torturing governments, compliant with the needs of American business and foreign policy. Even further, Islamic obscurantists were funded by the CIA to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, and used as soldiers in the U.S. battle against the Soviet Union in the Cold proxy war that was Afghanistan.

Racism and the American Presidency

Barack Obama is a mainstream Democratic Party politician. But he wants to be President of the United States. He may be what he says he is, an idealistic man. He may be nothing but another phony false hope for the poor and downtrodden, and especially for African-Americans. Neither of those possibilities matter at the moment, because he is black. (His mixed parentage also is irrelevant in the light of American politics.)

America is a deeply racist country. It was founded on slavery. It kept millions in legal second-class status for over a hundred years. Outside of sports heroes, black children have few role models in the mass media. Their job prospects and their social mobility is terrible restricted compared to other groups in America. Blacks are vilified as having low IQ, being naturally criminal, or naturally ADD. They fill U.S. prisons in vastly disproportionate numbers.

There are many who hope that an Obama election can help change all that, and heal past wounds. The reality that is white racism in the United States is just beginning to raise its terrifying face in this election, having hunted around the borders of Clinton-Obama electioneering. The Wright story may or not be a calculated plant, but I suspect it's worse than that. The vilification of Wright by a vast majority of the media -- even Obama has (sadly) condemned Wright's statements -- is an offshoot of the racist culture of this country, fertilized by decades of backpedalling by the civil rights movement.

I'll say this, Obama is a brave man, as he is facing a behemoth in American racism. And he is an intelligent man, but the pressures he is and will be facing are immense. I wish him well, and I hope he does not cave in and throw his truth-telling friend and pastor under the wheels of a vindictive, blinded monster fearful of losing its phony race privilege. Because in America, it really is a small group of mainly white people that control this country. And they will not give up their power gently. They are readying this country for an outbreak of terrible racist propaganda.

Now we'll learn how much "progress" this country has really made in the last forty years, since the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the end of black hopes (for that time) in the smoldering ruins of the nation's ghettos.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Five Years of U.S. War on Iraq (Graphic)

War crimes


Bombing of Civilians

If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war.
-- Pentagon official explaining why the U.S. military censored graphic footage from the Gulf War


For more, check out Winter Patriot's site and the coverage of the Winter Soldier hearings in Washington D.C.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pentagon Damage Control in Action

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced they weren't going to post online their own report explaining how Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida were not linked. It's well known, of course, that the Bush Administration did everything they could in the run up to the invasion of Iraq to make the U.S. public believe that just the opposite was true, so that the invasion of Iraq was associated in the public's mind with the 9/11 attack.

The Pentagon's inane attempt at suppression and censorship was met with a howl of protest and ridicule, including here at Invictus.

Now, ABC News has said that they have requested and did receive a full copy of the report (said to be five volumes long), and they have posted a link to it (PDF) online.

Given the length of the report, you might want to follow dmd76's suggestion over at Daily Kos: to obtain your own hard copy on a CD, go to the US Joint Forces Command feedback page and request a copy of "IDA Paper P-4151". Because they need your physical address to send you the CD, be sure to include it in your request.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Out of the Shadows? A Tale of Two Wars

The New York Times famously writes that it publishes "all the news that's fit to print." But there's a lot that doesn't get published, even on the Internet. Let's look at two examples.

Yesterday, the Pentagon made it official. According to a U.S. military study, Saddam Hussein had no links to Al Qaida. None. Nada. But like a pesky gopher that sticks its head up out of the ground, and then swiftly disappears down the hole into its dark tunnels, governmental truth made a very swift appearance yesterday. And now, it's going to be snatched back out of the light and stuffed into a deep governmental shaft. Here's the UK Guardian on subject (with a h/t to StuHunter at Daily Kos):
The Pentagon study based on more than 600,000 documents recovered after US and UK troops toppled Hussein in 2003, discovered "no 'smoking gun' (ie, direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al-Qaida", its authors wrote.
George Bush and his senior aides have made numerous attempts to link Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda terror in their justification for waging war against Iraq.

Wary of embarrassing press coverage noting that the new study debunks those claims, the US defence department attempted to bury the release of the report yesterday.

The Pentagon cancelled a planned briefing on the study and scrapped plans to post its findings on the internet, ABC news reported. Unclassified copies of the study would be sent to interested individuals in the mail, military officials told the network.
The Pentagon played this trick a few years back, when it declared "secret" another report that showed negligence in planning for post-war Iraqi reconstruction. The document was deemed officially "of limited value." Yes, for the mandarins and demagogues that rule this country, the truth is "of limited value." At least for now, we have ABC's posting of an executive summary of the current Saddam-Al Qaida report.

But then we all knew there was no link between Saddam and Al Qaida, didn't we? I know the polls showed otherwise, and then there are the Rush Limbaughs of this world who will prattle on endlessly with little regard to facts or veracity anyway. But the report certainly isn't shocking.

Meanwhile, today's New York Times has more on the slowly emerging story of military-CIA videotaping of interrogations. As we first heard it some weeks ago, the CIA had taped the interrogations of two "high-profile" detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri -- and then later destroyed those videotapes illegally. The investigation into the destruction of the tapes seems to be going nowhere, or moving at the glacial pace of congressional investigations that aren't related to baseball or steroids, which is the same thing. According to the NYT:
The Defense Department is conducting an extensive review of the videotaping of interrogations at military facilities from Iraq to Guantánamo Bay, and so far it has identified nearly 50 tapes, including one that showed what a military spokesman described as the forcible gagging of a terrorism suspect....

The review was intended in part to establish clearer rules for any videotaping of interrogations, Defense officials said. But they acknowledged that it had been complicated by inconsistent taping practices in the past, as well as uncertain policies for when tapes could be destroyed or must be preserved.
You can bet that there were a lot more than 50 videotapes, and as for audio tapes? Well, no one's even asking, so there must be hundreds. (The CIA 1960s interrogation manual, KUBARK, suggested taping interrogations as a routine matter.) But I suppose when the Pentagon finishes its "review" we won't be seeing it posted online or published anytime soon.

So this story might be a notch higher on the "shock" scale, but then, one generally expects the Pentagon and CIA to do these types of things. We're not liberal Pollyannas, are we?

But, sometimes there are shocking reports and studies, and these never see the light of day either. Nor is it always the government which censors. The editors and publishers of scholarly journals and establishment press also exert a real if impalpable influence on the nation's public discourse.

So I was surprised to see that an important 2002 article by the British scholars, Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman's "United States Biological Warfare during the Korean War: rhetoric and reality," has failed to date to find a scholarly publisher. Endicott and Hagerman were the authors of the 1998 book, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press). The thesis of both the book and article is that the United States, all denial and protestations aside, experimented with biological warfare against North Korea and China during the Korean War.

From the 2002 article:
For half a century one of the most closely guarded state secrets of the United States government has been its large-scale field experiments with biological weapons during the Korean War. This secrecy is perhaps not surprising since, as a prominent American scholar has noted, if it is shown that the US engaged in germ warfare then it will also be shown that the US in the eyes of most of the world has committed a major international war crime... Such an admission would be an intolerable blow to the prestige of a government and a nation many of whose citizens believe that the United States is the natural moral and human rights leader of the world....

The Air Force was assigned the primary operational role in biological warfare. The directorate of the air force biological weapons program during the Korean War was divided into two parts, both parts reporting separately to Lt-Gen. T. D. White, deputy chief of staff for operations. The task of the first part, known as the US Air Force BW-CW Division (with an acronym AFOAT-BW) under Colonel Frank Seiler, was to establish an overt biological warfare capability for the emergency general war plan against the Soviet Union referred to earlier... Initial capability within this plan was phased in by March 1952 but it was plagued with difficulties, shortage of refrigeration facilities for the brucellosis pathogen and fell short of expectations.

But there was another part. The second part was hidden in the Psychological Warfare Division of the air force under the command of Colonel John J. Hutchison and its tasks were to direct and supervise covert operations 'in the scope of unconventional BW and CW operations and programs,' and to 'integrate capabilities and requirements' for biological warfare and chemical warfare into war plans... Our understanding about what was going on in the Korean War was the covert experimental testing of biological weapons within the objectives of the emergency war plan, with the added advantage these weapons might serve some tactical purpose in the war.
The article, like the book, is copiously documented, and the authors, admitting they have no "smoking gun" document, nevertheless build a powerful case for the use of these weapons. I'll spend some time in future articles giving more details to their thesis.

But the story caught my attention because of a footnote. Back in 1952-1953, the scandal over use of these weapons broke because U.S. fliers shot down over Korea and imprisoned as POWs gave confessions as to the use of biological warfare, leading to investigations by various boards, by Congress, and impassioned denials by the military and U.S. authorities. Out of the turmoil, a tom-tom of accusation of Chinese "brainwashing" was beat: U.S. soldiers had been tortured into giving false confessions. In the clandestine hallways of the CIA and military intelligence offices, millions of dollars poured into research programs to discover the secret to this so-called "brainwashing" program. And so was born the CIA program of research into mind control, MKULTRA. The U.S. instituted their SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), training military personnel how to withstand torture. Over 50 years later, this training was reverse-engineered in order to teach a new generation of American interrogators how to torture.

But what if these so-called false confessions were real? What if the fliers, under coercive interrogation, or otherwise, had told the truth? What if the U.S. had committed a serious war crime? Where would this leave the project to study brainwashing? Was torture about producing false confessions, or producing valid information? Did torture work or not?

As you can probably tell, these questions lead directly to the issues that haunt the nation today. Even bigger than the torture-brainwashing story is the truth behind the nature of the U.S. state, its military, its capability for great destruction, and its willingness to use it. (Hiroshima and Nagasaki were less than ten years before the Chinese crossing of the Yalu River.)

This is an important story. This story deserves to come out of the shadows. We deserve to know our history, how to think about our history. Endicott and Hagerman's study deserves wider dissemination.

Tonight I walked outside. There was a ghostly half-moon falling slowly in the western sky, fuzzy and indistinct behind a shredded grey cloud that skirted in front of it. The reality of the moon hit me, even as it was shrouded by dark nocturnal clouds. It's really there, I thought, this half-planet rotating for ages hundreds of miles from this blue-green Earth. That's reality, behind the mists.

Let's find our reality behind the mists, outside of the government imposed shadows of secrecy.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Why Bush Defends Secret Torture Techniques

"Alternative procedures." "Valuable tools in the war on terror." "Specialized interrogation procedures." "Safe and lawful techniques." "Good policies."

George W. Bush has more euphemisms for torture than his creepy Veep, Cheney, has expletives on supply.

On Saturday, in his weekly radio address, President Bush announced his veto of the Congressional Intelligence bill, which included a ban on CIA use of certain "enhanced" interrogation methods, like waterboarding. Bush defended the use of the so-called "alternative procedures" practiced by the CIA, as necessary for field intelligence officers interrogating "hardened terrorists." The play upon the fear of Americans of terrorist attack in the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 events turns upon well-understood traumatic mechanisms in the human psyche.

But I want to concentrate on one telling aspect of Bush's torture apologia. Regarding the attempt by Congress to limit the intelligence agencies to interrogation practices based upon the Army Field Manual (which forbids use of hooding, waterboarding, sexual humiliation, etc.), Bush said (emphasis added):
Limiting the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods to those in the Army field manual would be dangerous because the manual is publicly available and easily accessible on the Internet. Shortly after 9/11, we learned that key Al Qaida operatives had been trained to resist the methods outlined in the manual. And this is why we created alternative procedures to question the most dangerous Al Qaida operatives, particularly those who might have knowledge of attacks planned on our homeland. The best source of information about terrorist attacks is the terrorists themselves. If we were to shut down this program and restrict the C.I.A. to methods in the field manual, we could lose vital information from senior Al Qaida terrorists, and that could cost American lives.
While Bush touts various terrorist operations foiled by use of torture, a major Congressional player had a different view:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he had heard nothing to suggest that the CIA, through enhanced interrogation methods, had obtained information to thwart a terrorist attack.
Secrets, Secrets, Secrets... Shhh!

The secret "enhanced" CIA interrogation techniques were authorized by Bush in July 2006, in a secret Executive Order vetted by Steven Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel. This authorization was needed after a 2006 Supreme Court decision had determined that Al Qaida prisoners were subject to the Geneva Conventions. Even earlier secret recommendations -- most famously, then-new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's February 2005 memorandum recommending government torture, which only came to light last year -- demonstrated the tenacity of the Bush Administration's quest to give the CIA and possibly other intelligence agencies the green light for torture.

In his radio address, Bush claims that if the terrorists had access to government interrogation methods, they would be able to prepare themselves to withstand the torture. Indeed, this is the rationale for the 50-year-old military SERE program. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and each branch of the military conducts its own version of it. It was SERE military psychologists, Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who were accused by a Pentagon Office of Inspector General Report last year of reverse-engineering 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.)

So I suppose this is what Bush is referring to when he says that the government had to create "alternative procedures" to counter the presumed wiliness of the "hardened terrorists." Except this is a lie. As regular readers of my blog know, government torture has been well-researched for over 50 years. It also went operational around the same time. The not-unsavvy terrorists certainly know where to go on the Internet to read the CIA's KUBARK Counter-intelligence Interrogation Manual, declassified by the United States in the 1990s, or any of a number of books openly for sale that describe the same.

The KUBARK manual describes the use of fear, isolation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, sleep deprivation, fear, and other techniques to induce regression and dependency in prisoners, in order to make them malleable to an experienced interrogator. SERE techniques were derived from presumed extreme sorts of torture that could be encountered by U.S. servicemen who found themselves prisoners of a government or group who didn't follow the Geneva Conventions. How ironic that the most famous state to announce it wouldn't follow Geneva protocols would be... the United States!

Bush does have a point. Knowledge of torture techniques and counter-measures can help a prisoner subjected to torture or cruel treatment, up to a point. Personality factors play a much larger role, as the KUBARK manual points out (including a CIA bibliography on the subject). Besides, there's a multitude of sources available for the enemy government or sophisticated organization to gather such information. The Congressional bill does not discuss torture counter-measures, to my knowledge.

The government -- and Bush is following advice from the CIA -- wants to keep its torture techniques secret because when a detainee does not know what's coming, it increases anxiety and fear, which creates greater confusion and psychological regression. In the spook biz, they call this extending the "shock of capture."

And then there is the political raison d'etre: Bush doesn't want the general public to know what barbarities are practiced in their name. Unfortunately, there are still too many Americans willing to play ostrich and pretend they don't know what's going on, ducking behind Bush and his surrogates's platitudes and lying homilies. Meanwhile, Bush's congressional critics (mostly Democrats) portray the Army Field Manual as providing a "bright line" between torture and acceptable interrogation technique.

Except this isn't true, either. The Army Field Manual's Appendix M allows selective use of CIA KUBARK-style torture, including use of isolation (also used at Guantanamo today), sleep deprivation, "harsh" induction of fear and play upon a detainees phobias, and the use of sensory deprivation goggles and earmuffs -- and this despite the fact the AFM in its main text says it forbids use of sensory deprivation. (The NY Times article and others on AFM often mention the use of isolation, wrongly reporting it as limited to 30 days, and not mentioning at all the use of sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation goggles, and "fear up harsh" techniques.)

The Torture Issue Won't End When Bush Is Gone

Spywork is famously presented as a house of mirrors, a wasteland of lies and deceptions. Bush's radio address/veto continues this grand tradition of obfuscation and doublespeak. And it's clear where the lame duck president gets his marching orders. From today's New York Times:
In a memo to CIA employees Saturday, CIA Director Michael Hayden said the Army Field Manual does not "exhaust the universe" of lawful interrogation techniques. ""There are methods in the CIA's program that have been briefed to our oversight committees, are fully consistent with the Geneva Convention and current U.S. law and are most certainly not torture," Hayden wrote.
We are very, very far from cleaning up this mess. In the choice between secret CIA torture and its somewhat cleaned up Army Field Manual version, there's very little to make a human rights advocate very happy. The Democratic candidates have made some stir that they would change things, stop the torture, and from Obama, the secret renditions, too; restore habeas corpus, etc. But they aren't exactly out front on the issue, and seem susceptible to military influence, and threats they are "too soft" on "terrorism."

Torture is a hydra-headed beast. It exists around the world, and the U.S. is hardly alone, even among Western so-called democracies, in practicing the barbaric "question." It will take a mass movement, something akin to the abolition of slavery or women's rights movements of the 19th century to change this fundamental evil in human society. For now, we must fight as we can, and try to undo the deadly combination of militarism, self-satisfied careerism, greed and bloodlust that has characterized the Bush torture regime.

One could do worse than to follow right now this hyperlink to Physicians for Human Rights website page on fighting torture. A long journey must begin with some first step.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New Vanity Fair Expose: Bush Coup Attempt Against Hamas

From David Rose at Vanity Fair:
After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, David Rose reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.
I'm just getting to this now, but it seems like a must read.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Longshore Union Plans Antiwar Port Shutdown

I and certainly others will be watching this to see what it portends. Quoting from a press release from the pro-socialist Internationalist Group:
In a major step for the U.S. labor movement, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has announced that it will shut down West Coast ports on May 1, to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East. This is the first time in decades that an American union has decided to undertake industrial action against a U.S. war. The action announced by the powerful West Coast dock workers union, to stop work to stop the war, should be taken up by unions and labor organizations throughout the United States and internationally. And the purpose of such actions should be not to beg the bourgeois politicians whose hands are covered with blood, having voted for every war budget for six and a half years, but a show of strength of the working people who make this country run, and who can shut it down!
Leftist propaganda and wishful thinking? or the beginning of a mass popular movement against the war, with real roots in the working class? Another leftist paper noted this action earlier this year:
OAKLAND—Three ships sat idle at the Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) terminals on May 19 as dock workers dispatched by International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 and clerks dispatched by ILWU Local 34 honored a picket line protesting the Iraq war....

Among the picketers was a union contingent from the Oakland Education Association (OEA).
Stay tuned.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Liberals and the Surveillance State

Quick, go read Glenn Greenwald's excellent dissection of the pallid liberal apologia on FISA, The "liberal" position on the Surveillance State, over at Greenwald demonstrates that, as the Democratic Congress gets ready to capitulate to Bush on amnesty for the telecoms for selling our privacy for cozy governmental relations, it is only the latest in a long slide of giveaways by liberals regarding our privacy.
The FISA is a classically Kafka-esque court that operates in total secrecy. Only the Government, and nobody else, is permitted to attend, participate, and make arguments. Only the Government is permitted to access or know about the decisions issued by that court. Rather than the judges being assigned randomly and therefore fairly, they are hand-picked by the Chief Justice (who has been a GOP-appointee since FISA was enacted) and are uniformly the types of judges who evince great deference to the Government. As a result, the FISA court has been notorious for decades for mindlessly rubber-stamping every single Government request to eavesdrop on whomever they want. Just look at this chart (h/t Arthur Silber) for the full, absurd picture.

Yet now, embracing this secret, one-sided, slavishly pro-government court defines the outermost liberal or "pro-civil-liberty" view permitted in our public discourse. And indeed, as reports of imminent (and entirely predictable) House Democratic capitulation on the FISA bill emerge, the FISA court is now actually deemed by the establishment to be too far to the Left -- too much of a restraint on our increasingly omnipotent surveillance state. Anyone who believes that we should at the very least have those extremely minimal -- really just symbolic -- limitations on our Government's ability to spy on us in secret is now a far Leftist....

When FISA was first unveiled at the height of the Cold War, it was publicly supported by what a May 23, 1977, pro-FISA Washington Post Editorial described as "leaders of the intelligence community and Congress"....

But opposition to FISA -- in many civil libertarian and even conservative circles -- was fierce, not on the ground that it imposed too many restrictions on Government eavesdropping but on the opposite ground: that FISA gave legal sanction to sweeping, excessive, unchecked government power to spy on Americans....

The political establishment today knows only one viewpoint: literally no limits are tolerable on the power of the loving, protective Surveillance State.
Need I say... go read the whole article!

"Sonnet on Chillon"

Written by George Gordon, Lord Byron in 1816, the poem was inspired by a visit to the castle at Chillon, on the shores of Lake Geneva, where Charles III, Duke of Savoy had imprisoned the monk and political prisoner, François Bonivard, underground for six years. The sonnet was written as a preface to a longer poem, "The Prisoner of Chillon."

Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty! thou art,
For there in thy habitation is the heart
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consign'd -
To fetters, and the damp vault's dayless gloom
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom's fame finds wings on every wind.
Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar - for t'was trod
Until his very steps have left a trace
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod
By Bonnivard! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.

U.S. -- The Prison-House of Nations

My blog entry on this is a few days late, but what does it matter for the 2.3 million Americans who languish in the prisons and jails of this country? They have plenty of time on their hands.

The Washington Post article last Thursday, New High In U.S. Prison Numbers, grabbed some headlines and commentary in the following days. But soon, all too soon, the revelations will grow stale, the stuff of old news, and the millions of prisoners placed safely not only behind bars, but out of sight and mind, can return to their quotidian lives of ongoing despair and impotent frustration. The Pew Report that generated the recent headlines is available here.

N.C. Aizenman writes at the WP:
More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year and the federal government $5 billion more, according to a report released yesterday.

With more than 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States leads the world in both the number and percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving far-more-populous China a distant second, according to a study by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

The growth in prison population is largely because of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been particularly affected: One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women ages 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 for white women in the same age group.
How can such figures mesh with any view of the U.S. as a country of free men and women? You don't have to be a penal expert to know that besides having a racist justice system, the rise in incarceration is due to obscene drug laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, the draconian three-strikes-and-you're-out laws passed by demagogic politicians and a frightened populace, and petty, tyrannical probation enforcement. As a result, there are more than one million non-violent offenders locked away in the U.S. prison system. Jailing people is a big industry in the U.S., and like any capitalist enterprise, the prison-industrial complex is always seeking new markets and greater expansion.

One fast growing area of prison expansion concerns the INS jailing of immigrants to the U.S. Some of these are asylum seekers, fleeing persecution in their native lands, and held in indefinite detention at public, and increasingly, at private prisons throughout the country. An estimated 1.6 million immigrants are detained at some point in their immigration hearings. From a report by CorpWatch:
As the government invokes national security to sweep up and jail an unprecedented number of immigrants, the private-prison industry is booming. In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on New York, immigrants have become the fastest growing segment of the prison population in the U.S. today. In fiscal year 2005, more than 350,000 immigrants went through the courts. "A growing share of them committed no crimes while in the United States - 53 percent this year, up from 37 percent in 2001 - even though Bush administration officials repeatedly have said their priority is deporting criminals," the Denver Post reported....

The government claims that locking up people without legal status is the only way to ensure that they do not disappear into the country. A December 2004 DHS report from the Office of the Inspector General concluded that all the evidence proved the “importance of detention in relation to the eventual removal of an alien. Hence effective management of detention bed space can substantially contribute to immigration enforcement efforts.”

The speed and scope of the Bush administration round up and jailing of non-citizens created a dramatically increased need for immigrant detention space. And saved the flailing corrections industry.
One example of this new privatization of prisons is the new prison built by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), "one of the nation's biggest prison companies", in Florence, Arizona:
The complex in Florence is part of a 300-facility-strong network of immigrant incarceration facilities. The average time an immigrant is detained is 42.5 days from arrest to deportation. At $85 a day per detainee, that adds up to $3,612.50 per person. In 2003, DHS was holding 231,500 detainees, and the budget to cover this was $1.3 billion. Since 2001, the DHS budget for detention bed space has increased each fiscal year as has the number of beds. In 2003 there was more than $50 million slated for the construction of immigrant jails....

For the second quarter of 2005, CCA announced that its revenue had increased three percent over last year, for a total of almost $300 million. CCA calculates that it expenditure of $28.89 per inmate, per day allows it to make a daily profit of $50.26 per inmate....

Business is good for CCA and the more people it stuffs into its prisons the better it becomes. "As you know, the first 100 inmates into a facility, we lose money, and the last 100 inmates into a facility we make a lot of money." CCA Chief Financial Officer Irving Lingo said on a 2006 company conference call.
This trafficking in prisoners demonstrates how deep the moral rot has penetrated this society. The U.S. as a society has truly lost its soul. The leaders of this country seem to be bound and determined to realize concretely the prophecy of Rousseau made in the years before both the French and American Revolutions:
Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Psychologists and the Realpolitik of Torture

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
Polonius: What is the matter, my lord?
Hamlet: Between who?
Sometimes it seems as if it is raining news and analysis. A number of good articles have appeared lately on the subject of U.S. torture. David Goodman's "The Enablers" over at Mother Jones is one of a number of articles in a special MJ series on torture. Goodman's article focuses on the fight within the American Psychological Association (APA) over psychologist participation in military and CIA interrogations of "enemy combatants." It's very good, fairly up-to-date, and puts the controversy into some historical context.

Another article, by Stephen Soldz and Brad Olson -- both psychologists and both active in the APA opposition organization, Psychologists for an Ethical APA -- has been published online over at ZNet. Its long title, "A Reaction to the APA Vote on Sealing Up Key Loopholes in the 2007 Resolution on Interrogations," tips you off that there has been some recent activity in the struggle to change APA policy on psychologists and interrogation. Indeed there has been, as last week APA Council voted to approve a substantial change in their previous language on prohibited interrogation techniques. But will it make a difference in the long run?

Soldz and Olson do a good job explaining what the loopholes were in the earlier APA position. The latter is a subject I've covered earlier myself:
The APA is touting how the new 2007 resolution prohibits "specific techniques sometimes used in interrogations and calling on the U.S. government to ban their use"....

Looking back at APA's long list of prohibited techniques we see something strange in the wording. The first part of the list are odious forms of obvious torture. "Techniques" that are "unequivocally condemned" include rape, mock executions, waterboarding, etc. Note, however, that use of "psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances" are prohibited in instances where they are "used for the purpose of eliciting information". If they are used to sedate or "soften up" a detainee prior to the questioning, drugs are apparently not prohibited.

Even worse is what comes next: a subset of other techniques are also singled out as prohibited when they are "used for the purposes of eliciting information in an interrogation process". These are "hooding, forced nakedness, stress positions, the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate, physical assault including slapping or shaking, exposure to extreme heat or cold, threats of harm or death".

A third subset of "prohibited" techniques concerns sensory deprivation and overstimulation, and sleep deprivation. Here, the APA goes completely off the rails. They define these techniques to be prohibited only if "used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm". (Emphasis mine)
Soldz and Olson described their reaction at the 2007 convention when APA Council brought forth their "substitute" resolution, written precisely to replace a bureaucratically-blocked resolution proposed months earlier calling for a moratorium against any psychologist participation at interrogation sites. They read the language around "definitions" of torture and cruel, abusive and inhuman behavior:
We remember clearly our shock at first observing this careful parsing of allowed degrees of suffering. We remember such insertions mysteriously occurring overnight before the Council vote. We recall how upset we were with this new language that was in such brazen contrast to the APA Ethics Code's injunction to "do no harm." We also remember our group of APA critics not being able to keep ourselves from wondering "Who pulled strings to get these phrases inserted?"
Opponents of APA collaboration with U.S. torture jumped on the wording of the disputed paragraph. Yet, introduced by representatives of APA's military psychology division, the Council resolution, with its weak and misleading language, passed easily. And that's where things sat for a number of months, as revelations mounted in the press about abusive conditions of confinement at Guantanamo's Camp Delta, about CIA use of waterboarding, and the participation of foreign countries in the U.S. "extraordinary rendition" program. Capping it all off, there was the circus of Attorney General Mukasey's testimony before Congress, with Bush's number one legal officer unable to make up his mind about whether waterboarding represented torture or not.

Meanwhile, the backlash grew against APA's sneaky maneuvers and parsing of language, allowing for the continuation of psychological forms of torture and abusive treatment. Goodman's article nicely summarizes what happened next:
In the wake of these revelations, a growing number of APA members have protested by withholding dues. In August [2007], Mary Pipher, author of the best-selling Reviving Ophelia, returned her APA Presidential Citation. And a stream of prominent APA members are resigning, including Kenneth Pope, the former chair of the organization's ethics committee, who quit in February. In addition, at least six college psychology departments -- Earlham, Guilford, Smith, University of Rhode Island, California State University at Long Beach, and York College of the City University of New York -- have gone on record saying it was a violation of professional ethics for psychologists to participate in interrogations in any prison outside the U.S. where prisoners are not afforded due process. And in January, the California State Senate Committee on Business, Professions, and Economic Development passed a resolution discouraging California licensed health professionals from participating in detainee interrogations.
(As a gesture demonstrating my wish to be open about any bias I may have, I should add that I resigned from the APA myself earlier this year.)

The APA brass certainly noticed something was happening. Ethics Director Stephen Behnke began sending out emails, trying to smooth the waters with critics. He assured the doubting Thomases that there was no attempt to create any loopholes, and that the confusion would all be cleared up by the long-promised casebook on ethics and interrogation due out in about a year. Of course, not a word was said about the now-forgotten moratorium proposal. It was dead in the water, relegated to the maximum program of radicals and little-read bloggers (ahem).

New APA Ban on Torture Techniques: Victory or Clever Cover-up?

According to Goodman's article, the Senate Armed Services Committee is still investigating the role of psychologists in the reverse-engineering of Pentagon anti-torture training for the interrogators of Bush's "war on terror." I had given up on any real hearings ever happening, but perhaps APA headquarters knows more than me. Or perhaps, as Soldz and Olson suggest, and I've made explicit in the past, the dawning realization that a Democratic administration is probably going to take over Washington, D.C. next January has signaled to APA that a change in approach is necessary. The Democrats have offered a reform of interrogation policy that includes a similar ban on abusive techniques, and offers the current Army Field Manual as an authority of allowable interrogation techniques.

Then again, maybe the resignations of prominent and non-prominent members, the dues boycott, and the muffled drumbeat in the press on the subject has played a role in APA's turnabout on torture definitions. In any case, all of a sudden, APA Council moved with due speed to make some purportedly dramatic changes in their previous position.

More than one critic of APA's past policy has noted the participation of Bill Strickland from APA's Division 19, Society for Military Psychology, on the small group redrafting the controversial paragraph. Not only has Strickland been a major opponent of a psychologist moratorium, wherein psychologists would follow the policies of the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatrist Association forbidding their membership from participation in the interrogation of detainees, he is also Vice President of Human Research Resources Organization, or HumRRO.

Goodman notes in his article that HumRRO is a major recipient of defense funding, and staffed at high levels by APA honchos past and present. But HumRRO was a major research center in the 1950s-1960s on sensory deprivation, using U.S. soldiers as guinea pigs, and thus a center of MKULTRA research. As reported in J.P. Zubek's 1969 compendium, Sensory Deprivation: Fifteen Years of Research (Appleton-Century-Crofts, publishers), HumRRO, located in Monterey, California, reportedly had the best laboratory of all the sensory research centers:
...they made significant contributions to the study of the effects of sensory deprivation on hallucinations, attitude change, emotions, motor behavior, and cognition. Perhaps their most important work has been in the area of the measurement of affect and subjective stress... (p. 10)
I presume Strickland and his military/CIA partners are counting on the fact that sensory deprivation can be banned in name only, but still be practiced in the field. How do they do this? By simply claiming, as is done in the new Army Field Manual, that what they are doing is not sensory deprivation, even when they are applying special goggles and mittens to detainees, taking a page right out of the Donald Hebb SD playbook. The famous picture of then-defendant Jose Padilla being taken from his cell in goggles illustrates the technique quite well.

As we shall see, the supposed closing of the loopholes (and they likely aren't all completely closed) belies the fact that the military and APA leadership have shifted the terms of the debate away from psychologist participation in unethical and likely illegal governmental detention of prisoners, and away from other, more arcane loopholes that promise no major change in U.S. torture practice. For brevity's sake, the reedited 2007 paragraph defining proscribed interrogation techniques is not reproduced here, but can be accessed at this link. Let me allow that it is quite encyclopedic in proscribing most torture techniques known or that can be imagined. It's reliance on the UN Convention Against Torture, which was ratified in the U.S. with a number of "reservations" that weakened its definitional structure, remains a possible difficulty in implementation. (See discussion on this point here.)

But the other difficulties are more obvious. Hence it is not in the resolution's language that we find the problems (at present), but in the politics that got us to where we now are. These are enumerated below:

1) Despite all protestations of good faith by APA, psychologists still staff the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams at Guantanamo, and other interrogation sites, including, presumably, secret "black site" prisons run by the CIA. Psychologists at these sites are under the military chain of command, not APA ethics codes and committees. These sites are known to be in violation of Geneva Conventions and other national and international laws and agreements concerning prisoners, including the holding of detainees in indefinite detention, hiding detainees from the Red Cross, subjecting detainees to abusive conditions of detention, transferring via secret rendition some detainees to foreign prisons to be tortured, and subjecting prisoners to secret courts where hearsay evidence and evidence supplied via tortured confession is allowed.

Scandalously, a promised resolution to be brought before APA Council calling for the closure of Guantanamo's prison facility failed to make an appearance yet again at February's meeting, putting off any action for some months. The Council member who promised to do this explained to an inquiring member that the Gitmo closure resolution wasn't presented at the Council meeting for the following reasons: it was being vetted by APA's Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI), emails got lost, a busy work schedule intervened, and various other dog-ate-my-homework excuses. When APA wants to bureaucratically bury something, they don't fool around.

2) APA's Ethics Code 1.02, which allows psychologists to obey commands and "governing legal authority," even when an action is at variance with professional ethics, remains a virtual get-out-of-jail card for military psychologists engaged in abusive interrogations. The code, rewritten after 9/11, places into APA's ethics code the Nazis' Nuremberg defense: "I was only following orders" ("Befehl ist Befehl"). The APA promised to insert a qualifying phrase about human rights into 1.02 back in 2006. No action has been taken to date. Contrast this with the six month time frame that brought about the recent word change in last summer's resolution.

3) For months, APA activists have been concentrating their fire on the previously weak language of the 2007 resolution and its loopholes regarding certain kinds of torture. With the "victory" of recent days over this disputed language, some activists aren't wondering if it isn't time to end the dues boycott, implemented last year as a protest against APA's torture policy. Others are seeing the language change as a sign of good faith by APA leadership. The days of a strong fight over a moratorium of psychologist participation at Guantanamo and CIA "black site" prisons seems a thing of the past, indicating the success of APA in changing the terms of the torture debate.

Calling the Question

The issue boils down to this: Are psychologists involved in interrogations of detainees at Guantanamo, CIA prisons, and other theater of war prison sites? Yes. Are these sites in violation of basic human rights laws and treaties? Yes. Have psychologists been implicated in torture of prisoners, and training other personnel in such torture? Yes. Does APA have an ethics policy in place that allows military psychologists to follow orders, regardless of ethical demands? Yes. Has anyone in the 50 plus year history of psychologist participation in mind control and interrogation research ever been held responsible for unethical practices? No. Has any military psychologist, or for that matter any health professional, been held responsible for torture-related activities since 9/11? No.

The overwhelming conclusion is that the language change in APA's 2007 resolution regarding interrogations, while welcome, is a small victory at best, part of a larger campaign where the government and their institutional handmaidens, like APA, have by far the lion's share of victories. This is the time when all opponents of APA participation in U.S. abusive interrogation must redouble their efforts to push for a moratorium on psychologist involvement in national security interrogations of so-called "enemy combatants." They must come out strongly against the use of psychological torture techniques in the Army Field Manual. They must call for accountability from those who have promoted torture and other abuse, up to and including criminal prosecutions. They must call for an end to the nation's policy of "extraordinary rendition." They must call for the rescission of APA Ethics Code 1.02. And, finally, they should take up Drs. Soldz and Olson's call for a reckoning with the sordid aspects of the history of the behavioral sciences:
We must, together with other health professions, come together as part of a truth and reconciliation process to publicly clarify the roles of psychologists and other health and mental health professionals in the production of harm. We must publicly admit and apologize for the use of psychological knowledge and expertise in detention and interrogation abuses. Until we clarify and personally accept the extent to which our profession and our professional association has condoned or abetted these and other abuses committed during this so-called "war on terrorism," we will have done little to learn what went wrong, and little to make the moral and institutional changes necessary to prevent their recurrence.
For further reading, please see this recent article, "The ethics of interrogation and the American Psychological Association: A critique of policy and process", by Brad Olson, Stephen Soldz, and Martha Davis.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Diderot's "Apostrophe to the Insurgents," 1782

The "insurgents" in question were the "founding fathers" of our era, the men and women who rose up against royalist tyranny and sought to make the ideals of the Enlightenment a true and living thing, the soul of a new country. That country today looks nothing like the land of Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin. Diderot's dream of a revolutionary America, fighting "unequal distribution of wealth, extravagance, indolence, and corruption" and protecting human liberty, this dream is over.
"After centuries of oppression, may the revolution which has just taken place across the sea, by offering to all the inhabitants of Europe asylum against fanaticism and tyranny, teach those who govern men about the legitimate use of their authority! May those courageous Americans, who preferred to see their wives assaulted, their children butchered, their homes destroyed, their fields ravaged, their towns burned, to spill their blood and to die, rather than lose even a tiny portion of their liberty, prevent the enormous growth and the unequal distribution of wealth, extravagance, indolence, and corruption, and guarantee the maintenance of their liberty and the duration of their government. May they defer (at least for several centuries), the judgment pronounced against all the things of this world, the judgment which condemned them to have their birth, their period of strength, their decrepitude, and their end.

"Adversity employs great talents; prosperity renders them useless and carries the inept, the corrupted wealthy and the wicked to the top. May they bear in mind that virtue often contains the seeds of tyranny. May they bear in mind that it is neither gold nor even a multitude of arms that sustains a state, but its morals. May each of them keep in his house, in a corner of his field, next to his workbench, next to his plow, his gun, his sword and his bayonet. May they all be soldiers. May they bear in mind that in circumstances where deliberation is possible, the advice of old men is good, but that in moments of crisis youth is generally better informed than its elders."

Free Speech Victory: Judge Reverses Self on Wikileaks Injunction

Last month, a federal judge in Northern California ordered the Internet Service Provider Dynadot to shut down the important whistleblowing site, Wikileaks. Now, thanks to the work of Wikileaks supporters and groups like the ACLU and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the judge has reversed his decision.

From a press release from the Reporter's Committee (and thanks to Night Owl at Docudharma for bringing this to my attention):
The whistleblower site may resume its U.S. operation following a hearing in California federal court today, where Judge Jeffrey S. White dissolved a previous order that required the site to be taken offline and indicated he would not approve a second order prohibiting the site's publication.

The Feb. 15 orders had required domain name service provider Dynadot to cut off access to the Wikileaks site, disabling the Web address. A Swiss bank had asked the court to require the site to be taken down, arguing it disclosed private banking records.

Acting as a friend of the court, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and several other media organizations asked the judge earlier this week to take notice of the prior restraint that occurred as a result of those orders. Wikileaks had not appeared in court to defend against charges by the bank that it had improperly posted private information and no First Amendment concerns were raised before the Court.

White's order of today dissolved the injunction that had prohibited Dynadot from allowing to be accessible. It also "tentatively" denied the bank's request for an order that would keep Wikileaks from independently publishing itself online.

"It's not very often a federal judge does a 180 degree turn in a case and dissolves an order," said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. "But we're very pleased the judge recognized the constitutional implications in this prior restraint."

White is expected to issue a full opinion on the matter in the near future. The media coalition's brief in the case can be found at:
I've just checked, and is definitely back up and online at its old address. Anyone who still wants to contribute to Wikileaks defense fund can probably still do so by by emailing with their pledge.

Congratulations to all involved! Let the leaks continue!

Ben Griffin Silenced by High Court on Secret Renditions

Ben Griffin, the British ex-Special Air Service (SAS) soldier who resigned over the illegalities involved in the U.S. extraordinary rendition program, and who has spoken out publicly on British troop collaboration with U.S. forces in these activities, was served with a UK high court gag order. According to yesterday's Guardian:
Ben Griffin could be jailed if he makes further disclosures about how people seized by special forces were allegedly mistreated and ended up in secret prisons in breach of the Geneva conventions and international law.
At least hundreds of Afghans and Iraqis have been swept up in the program run with British and American special forces, and sent to prisons in countries often thousands of miles away to face torture and indefinite detention. Other European countries, including most recently Romania and Poland, have been implicated in the rendition program.

At a press conference February 25, before the court banned his free speech, Griffin spoke out more specifically about how the joint U.S.-UK operation worked (emphasis added):
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 this joint US/UK task force appeared. Its primary mission was to kill or capture high value targets. Individuals detained by this Task Force often included non-combatants caught up in the search for high value targets. The use of secret detention centres within Iraq has negated the need to use Guantanamo Bay whilst allowing similar practice to go unnoticed.

As UK soldiers within this Task Force a policy that we would detain individuals but not arrest them was continually enforced. Since it was commonly assumed by my colleagues that anyone we detained would subsequently be tortured this policy of detention and not arrest was regarded as a clumsy legal tool used to distance British soldiers from the whole process.

During the many operations conducted to apprehend high value targets numerous non-combatants were detained and interrogated in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of civilians in occupied territories. I have no doubt in my mind that non-combatants I personally detained were handed over to the Americans and subsequently tortured.
Griffin joins U.S. whistleblower Sibel Edmonds in being gagged from speaking about what they know about illegal activities by their governments or their agents. It's clear that the U.S. and their allies are ratcheting up the machinery of governmental repression against those who would oppose their criminal policies. This story has failed to make a stir in either the U.S. mainstream or alternative press or blogosphere. In the world of American Empire, those who would speak out against blatant transgressions of justice and human decency are silenced. It is only a matter of time until they become non-people, a process already begun with the implementation of off-the-books "ghost prisoners," such as those the CIA held at Abu Ghraib, and the hundreds or thousands more who have been sent without hope of appeal to foreign dungeons around the world.

I can only hope that this story, and others like it, are picked up by those who still have the freedom to voice their opinions. Without at least that, the brave men and women who speak for justice and freedom, and against torture, have -- no matter what Obama says -- no hope.

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