Sunday, November 30, 2008

Vermont State Hospital Implicated in CIA Mind Control Experiments

Also posted at Daily Kos

In 1973, when the CIA got wind of the revelations that would expose its decades-long program into mind control experiments, then-CIA Director Richard Helms, and Sidney Gottlieb, head of the Agency's Technical Services Division, got together to destroy all the files they could find on MKULTRA and related programs. These programs consisted of experiments on human subjects on isolation, sensory deprivation, induction of hallucinations and psychosis through drugs, electroshock, hypnosis, physical debility (through hunger, mainly), and other horrifying procedures. Some of you may be familiar with one such sponsored program, if you've read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine.

Helms, who bragged about his destruction of the evidence to Congress, and Gottlieb were never held accountable for their destruction of evidence. (No surprise to those of us fighting to get the incoming Obama administration to hold Bush Administration officials accountable for their crimes on torture and lying the country into war.) Later, when through the efforts of heroic journalists -- some of them ex-intelligence officers, like John Marks -- some of the programs were exposed, but it was believed much of the CIA's crimes in this instance would never be known.

Yet here we are 35 years later, and some information is still leaking out, in this case in the pages of a small, but noteworthy paper in Rutland, Vermont. The Rutland Herald won a Pulitzer Prize back in 2001. Reporter Louis Porter deserves one for his well-written expose on CIA experiments at Vermont State Hospital, and the purported participation of its head psychiatrist, Dr. Robert W. Hyde.

Throughout his article, Porter is careful not to claim too much. He constructs a circumstantial case for the use of experiments on mental patients, using archival and legal documents. He relies heavily on the testimony of former Hyde patient Karen Wetmore and her legal and medical defenders. No one at Vermont State Hospital today claims any knowledge of any drug or electoshock experimentation, nor has any professional who worked with Dr. Hyde, who died in 1976, come forward to verify Wetmore's claims.

As the article describes it, Karen Wetmore began receiving psychiatric care as a child and adolescent. She was diagnosed in the early 1960s with "hysteria" (a diagnosis no longer in use in the psychiatric field), and then with dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia. Wetmore denies she has schizophrenia.

In any case, her medical records were reviewed by Dr. Thomas Fox, a Rutland, Vermont doctor who later served as "a top mental health official with the state of New Hampshire." Dr. Fox, who had never offered testimony as an "expert witness" in a civil lawsuit, came forward in Karen's case, horrified by what he saw in her treatment. Even without any CIA involvement, her treatment was scandalous -- involuntary administration of drugs, long periods of isolation. Dr. Fox wrote in her deposition (emphasis added):
“I became convinced, based on the record, that Karen had been mistreated at certain phases of her treatment in (Waterbury), and that, from a professional standpoint, the way in which we police ourselves, the way in which we keep each other ethical and competent, when we identify that, we (members of our profession) should do something about it,” Fox said in a deposition in the lawsuit to Wetmore and the state’s lawyer. “That’s my feeling, you should act on it.”

He wrote in an outline that he prepared for her lawsuit in 2000: “I must conclude, in my opinion, that Karen was involved in drug experimentation without her knowledge or consent.”
As Louis Porter documents, Karen Wetmore's doctor had connections with CIA researchers and psychologists. It only took me a few minutes to double-check with my sources to see that Robert Hyde had helped co-author two studies cited in the CIA-funded 1961 book, The Manipulation of Human Behavior. Along with LSD-experimenter, Army psychiatrist Max Rinkel, Hyde and other researchers wrote articles on "Experimental schizophrenia-like symptoms" and "Clinical and physiochemical psychosis."

If anything, the Porter article is a little too circumspect regarding Hyde's CIA ties. John Marks interviewed CIA personnel back in the 1970s, who verified Hyde's CIA credentials. According to Marks's sources, Hyde "advised the CIA on using LSD in covert operations" (p. 65, The Search for the Manchurian Candidate). He had his own special MKULTRA subproject to use as a funding conduit. Thus, while many MKULTRA contract researchers were unwitting recipients of CIA funding over the years, Hyde was not one of those. He was, to quote a certain vice president-elect (out of context, to be sure), "the real deal."

Nor was the use of mental patients for drug experimentation quite the scandal in the 1960s it would be today. In an article by Marvin Zuckerman from the 1960s on "Hallucinations, Reported Sensations, and Images," published in Sensory Deprivation: Fifteen Years of Research (1969, ed. by J.P. Zubek), we find the following (p. 121):
Malitz, Wilkens, and Esecover (1962) have presented data on 100 randomly selected chronic schizophrenic patients, and 57 acute psychiatric patients, and 42 normals administered one of three drugs: d-lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), d-l-methyl lysergic acid diethylamide (MLD), or d-l-acetyl lysergic acid diethylamide (ALD)....

The content of the drug-induced visual hallucinations was similar to the RVS [Reported Visual Stimulation] phenomena of sensory deprivation (e.g., abstract and geometrical forms, lattice work, flashes,and human, animal, and familiar forms).
There's more to the Malitz et al. study, but the point here is that there was mass use of psychiatric patients who were given potent hallucinogens and other drugs to study phenomena of interest to the CIA, for example, sensory deprivation.

In the infamous case of Ewen Cameron at Allen Memorial Hospital at McGill University in Montreal, LSD and other drugs were combined with electroshock, induced sleep or coma, and forced indoctrination in attempts to use patients as involuntary subjects in direct attempts to brainwash patients and induce new personalities or memories.

Porter's article traces the career of Robert Hyde, from the CIA-funded studies at Boston Psychopathic Hospital (now known as Massachusetts Mental Health Center) to Butler Health Center in Providence, R.I., to Vermont State Hospital. While MKULTRA experiments have been documented at both Boston Psychopathic and Butler, to date no one has placed such experimentation at Vermont State Hospital. As for Hyde, he was a highly regarded doctor in his time. Records online show him as a Sponsoring Member of the National Mental Health Committee. The University of Vermont College of Medicine has a "Medical Scholarship Fund" in his name.

Of course, the bulk of MKULTRA records were destroyed, and Porter is left to build a circumstantial case, from documents, and from the nearly destroyed memory of a former mental patient and likely subject of Dr. Hyde's experimentation. Porter's article cites a "1994 Government Accounting Office report on the clandestine research notes that at least 15 of the 80 facilities around North America known to have participated in the research remain unidentified."

Porter concludes:
Wetmore and her advocates could not unequivocally link her case to the CIA’s research activities at other institutions through government documents from the agency, but histories of the CIA’s psychiatric testing, other documents and a preponderance of circumstantial evidence around Wetmore’s treatment based on her medical records suggest the Vermont State Hospital may have been one of the sites for secret experimentation.
It is not my intent to reproduce all of Mr. Porter's excellent article here. The point is to whet your appetite and send you off to the link. But a few conclusions of my own are in order.

First, it should be no news to anyone that the CIA cannot be trusted to produce evidence of their own wrong-doing. If too long is taken to get the investigatory machinery underway, crucial evidence can and will be destroyed. One only has to look at the controversy last Spring over the CIA's destruction of the interrogation videotapes of Abu Zubaydah.

Second, despite the efforts of many, it seems clear that there is much we don't know about our own history. And what sometimes we seem to know is only received knowledge or wisdom, repeated often enough by reputable sources, such that a false history is constructed. My one criticism of the Porter article concerns the way he traces U.S. torture back to Soviet and Chinese prototypes. This myth has been deconstructed by me, and also at length by the noted researcher Darius Rejali in his massive study, Torture and Democracy.

Finally, it is crucial that we understand that the resolution of these issues lies in our hands, not that of politicians, or of Obama in particular. Without an outcry by Americans, their own history, and the punishment of criminals in our midst who misused the public trust to engage in actions outside the pale of normal ethical behavior, who were responsible for serious harm or even death to vulnerable people in their care will go unpunished.

It is a short step, ethically, and perhaps politically, from unethical conduct upon mental patients, to lying about the causes for war, and the deaths of a million innocents, as in Iraq. If we don't do something about it, history will not absolve us.

My thanks to Austin K. for tipping me to Porter's article.

Friday, November 28, 2008

APA Old Guard Campaigns Against Progressive Reisner

Monday, December 1, will be the last day members of the American Psychological Association can vote for president of the organization. Members can vote online at this link. They should cast their vote for the only progressive candidate standing for election, Steven J. Reisner, Ph.D.

According to the ranked nature of the APA ballot, members must mark Dr. Reisner #1 on the ballot. In a letter to his supporters, Steven describes his opponents' tactics:
The APA leadership has mounted a coordinated effort to combat my campaign for change at the APA. Nearly identical emails have gone out from members of the APA’s ‘old guard’ urging members to stop my bid for the APA Presidency by giving their top four votes to the other candidates, in whatever order, just so long as they put Steven Reisner last.
Such campaigning is perhaps not unusual, although with five candidates for office, it does represent a kind of pile-on by the opposition. The other candidates are united in one thing: stop Steven Reisner.

One reason is his association with and support of those APA members who successfully passed a referendum to change APA policy on having psychologists at military and CIA sites that violated human rights of detainees, as recognized in domestic and international law. Psychologists in particular had been associated with abusive interrogations as part of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) at Guantanamo and in Iraq. Psychologists were associated with similar actions with Special Forces in Afghanistan. Finally, some psychologists were intimately involved in implementing torture procedures, reverse-engineered from the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program.

Most recently, a key group of anti-torture psychologists led by Stephen Soldz, a close associate of Dr. Reisner, initiated a successful petition campaign against a possible CIA directorship for torture apologist and CIA insider John Brennan. The campaign was widely viewed as contributing to the downfall of any Brennan appointment. It's precisely this kind of action that probably scares some of the APA old guard, who heavily support the military and intelligence services, believing them the source of a bevy of important jobs for current and future psychologists.

While the anti-Brennan campaign came only recently, the successful referendum campaign, which had been opposed by key APA insiders, still rankles, as demonstrated by this post from the APA Council representative for military psychologists on their division listerv (Division 19, the Society for Military Psychology):
Thank you to those who voted in the recent APA special ballot on the petition regarding the so-called “torture” resolution. Unfortunately, as we feared, relatively few APA members voted, and the resolution passed. This will be a difficult resolution for us to live with, but things could get even worse if one of the leaders of the petition movement, Steven Reisner, is elected president of APA…Soon you will receive a ballot to vote for APA president-elect. You will be asked to rank order the five candidates. Because of the vote-counting system that APA uses, it is very important that you use all five positions, and that Dr. Reisner be ranked in the #5 spot. Your Executive Committee is uncomfortable endorsing specific candidates for APA president.
According to Dr. Reisner, similar emails have gone out to the division for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and various state psychological associations. Dr. Reisner's letter gives a powerful and systemic analysis of his opponents' motivations, and offers a progressive program to address the imbalance of military and intelligence influence within APA:
We know that the status quo was roundly rejected by an overwhelming majority of APA members through the referendum vote. Yet, the authors of these emails are contemptuous of the referendum (“Unfortunately…the referendum passed”) and are still trying to delegitimize its validity ("relatively few members voted”). In fact, the referendum passed with a larger number of votes than any previous policy change and with a larger turnout than all but two elections in APA history.

For years, the APA leadership has been on the wrong side of this issue, to our shame, and to the detriment of our ability to speak as professionals with moral authority. The persistence with which the leadership maintains this position has caused some to suspect that APA's policy has much more to do with economics and power than with ethics. Many of the opponents of policy change work directly for the military and many others work for corporations, like HUMRRO, that garners millions in military contracts each year. For this reason I have called for transparency in APA dealings with government, military, and intelligence organizations, including full disclosure of government ties or contracts of any member who is involved in setting APA policies with regard to these agencies.
APA elections are often decided by razor-thin margins. This is a very important election. A relatively small group of psychologists are going to decide what direction a key civilian component of the military-industrial-academic complex takes in the coming period. No one knows what direction exactly national security and military matters will go under an Obama administration. This vote is a way to show the right way for both a President Obama and the incoming Congress.

All APA psychologists: vote for Steven Reisner in the upcoming elections, putting him as #1 choice on the ballot.

To Vote:

You may vote online by Monday, December 1, at You will need your membership number (on your APA card or on any APA journal mailing label) and your 'ballot control number' (located above your name and address on your paper ballot).

If you are missing either of these, you may call Garnett Coad of the APA election office at 202-336-6087, or email him at

Please pass this information on to all APA members you may know, and please encourage them to vote by Monday!

For those with further questions, I suggest you email Dr. Reisner, or visit his website,

For the record, I have no association with Dr. Reisner's campaign. No member of his campaign has asked me write this, or asked for my support. I have no current association with APA. I am writing this, and supporting Dr. Reisner, because of concern for my profession (psychology), and an even larger concern for the direction of my country.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Updates on Hamdan, Jawad, & the Army Field Manual Controversy

While the drama over the assemblage of Obama's so-called "team of rivals" continues, pressed on by the near-total collapse of the U.S. economy, important developments occurred in two important cases that have been followed by this blog and countless others over the years.

Salim Hamdan, famously Osama bin Ladin's former driver, imprisoned at Guanatanamo for seven years, and the first to be tried by Bush's infamous military commissions, is due to be released at any moment and flown home to Yemen, a full month before the end of his prison sentence. It's believed he would finish the sentence in Yemeni custody. From the McClatchy report:
The apparent decision to send Hamdan back to Yemen resolves questions about whether the United States would release him after his sentence was completed. A six-member military jury convicted Hamdan, 40, of providing material support for terror in August, but handed prosecutors a defeat by sentencing him to 66 months in prison, with credit for time served.
Smintheus at NION has a typically ascerbic take on the Bush Administration's decision re Hamdan:
He's shipping Hamdan to Yemen and letting that government take the onus of releasing him when the sentence expires. The most important thing, as with the Uighurs, is that George Bush should not have to face up to his own defeat.
Likewise, Gary Norton, over at Daily Kos, comments:
What was Hamdan's big crime? He worked as a driver for Osama bin Laden for a while. Now let's put this crime in perspective. Hitler had a driver named Erich Kempka. Unlike Kempka who was a high ranking SS officer who worked for Hitler for over a decade, Hamdan worked for a couple of years for OBL making $200 a month. Hamdan was a gofer. Kempka was in charge of Hitler's motor pool and was part of his inner circle, to the point that he was one of the men chosen to be with Hitler at the end. Kempka was not charged with anything by the Nuremberg court and, in fact, was called a defense witness in the trial of Martin Bormann.
But Bush and the Pentagon have placed hundreds of innocent prisoners into indefinite detention, submitting an untold number to torture. And now, according to a press release from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR):
With less than 60 days left in the Bush presidency, the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay, Col. Lawrence Morris, has threatened publicly to bring additional charges against detainees before the military commissions....

It is disgraceful that Col. Morris is attempting to preempt the results of the election by expanding the fiasco of the military commissions at the last minute. Any effort to expand the military commissions at this point is an attempt to further institutionalize these illegitimate tribunals and to prevent the next administration from acting quickly to put the military commissions to an end.

Write today to the Secretary of Defense, Reps. Conyers, Delahunt and Nadler, and Sens. Leahy and Durbin and call for an immediate end to any further charges before the military commissions.
Two Strikes Against Jawad's Gitmo Prosecutors

Meanwhile, last week the military commissions prosecutors in the case of Mohammed Jawad -- who was a teenager at the time of his capture in Afghanistan -- suffered what must be a fatal blow. In October, the judge in the case, Col. Stephen Henley, threw out Jawad's "confession" made to Afghan interrogators as tainted by torture. But Henley had not yet ruled on the applicability of another "confession," the one made to U.S. interrogators.

The Bush administration ardently argued for the inclusion of this "evidence," even as one of the chief prosecutors in Jawad's case resigned, citing government malfeasance.

Here's how David McFadden at AP summarized Hensley's new decision (as posted at the Washington Post website):
In Wednesday's ruling, Henley disqualified Jawad's second confession while in U.S. custody on Dec. 17 and 18, in part because the U.S. interrogator used techniques to maintain "the shock and fearful state" associated with his arrest by Afghan police, including blindfolding him and placing a hood over his head.

"The military commission concludes the effect of the death threats which produced the accused's first confession to the Afghan police had not dissipated by the second confession to the U.S.," Henley wrote. "In other words, the subsequent confession was itself the product of the preceding death threats."
Hensley's ruling came despite the fact that the Military Commissions Act, while supposedly forbidding torture evidence, allows "some statements obtained through "coercion"... at the discretion of a military judge."

A Battle Too Far? Recission of AFM's Notorious Appendix M

As the CCR plea makes clear, the machinery that is the torture state-within-a-state is unrelenting in its quest to use every means at its disposal to support the counterinsurgency and military campaigns of the United States. Hamdan's freedom, and the likely release of Jawad in the near future (or so one hopes), are momentary victories in the war against brutality and oppression, exemplified by the use of torture and inhumane abuse. There is much more to be done.

For example, the modern consensus, supported by Obama's team, and a myriad of others, including prominent human rights organizations and activists, is that all interrogations, including those of the CIA, should be held to the standards of the current Army Field Manual on interrogations. But the problem is that the AFM does allow torture and abusive treatment. As I wrote last February:
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."
I believe that the AFM, with its Appendix M, represents a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Human rights organizations and activists that have latched onto acceptance of the AFM, as proposed by Democrats, are in fact in danger of endorsing, albeit sometimes critically, a document that violates international law. They should pause to think about this.

New times admits of new tactics. The willingness to see the new AFM made some kind of sense when the current administration held supreme power (although I still disagreed with such an approach). But to maintain the same position now, with an incoming Democratic administration that at least on paper says it will eliminate torture, is to find oneself repositioned from the progressive to the retrograde.

Rescind Appendix M of the AFM. This must be part of any call upon Obama as he supposedly will seek to act to change torture policies in the first days of his administration.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Anti-Torture Activists Chase Brennan from CIA Post

The Washington Post reports in an article today that the "criticism of a number of groups" regarding John Brennan's positions on torture and rendition led him to withdraw his name from nomination to CIA director in an Obama administration.
Brennan's withdrawal came three days after a group of about 200 psychiatrists and academics wrote to Obama opposing his appointment, saying Brennan was tainted by his association with some of the CIA's most controversial policies of the Bush era. They include the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods against captured al-Qaeda leaders in secret CIA prisons.

"Mr. Brennan served as a high official in George Tenet's CIA and supported Tenet's policies, including 'enhanced interrogations' as well as 'renditions' to torturing countries," the coalition stated in the letter. The group said Brennan's appointment would "dishearten and alienate those who opposed torture under the Bush administration."
I congratulate the psychologists and other health and academic professionals who helped demonstrate that there is anger and opposition to torture policies among much of the professional class and intelligentsia in this country. But this is a nuanced victory in a skirmish with a dangerous enemy, and I am admittedly someone who differs on tactics with those who helped orchestrate Brennan's defeat. (Let's not forget that a number of others on the left, and even conservatives like Andrew Sullivan opposed the Brennan would-be nomination.)

The CIA should be abolished. It cannot be reformed. It's bureaucracy was forged in a world of covert wars and abusive interrogation research. Asking for someone who is "anti-torture" to head the CIA would at most drive the worst elements of torture underground. It might end, for awhile, the "enhanced interrogation techniques" (so-called "touchless torture") that is the CIA's expertise. But it does nothing to address the evils of covert secret action that derails foreign governments, nor is there any outcry against the use of targeted assassinations undertaken by the CIA over the years.

An example of how good feelings over a victory can lead to a false sense of comfort, consider the decision today by the Obama administration to put forth Bush's Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for another go at the post.
President-elect Barack Obama has decided to retain the Bush administration's Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in his current position, at least for a year....

Such a move, if confirmed, could also incite the Democratic left, which had based much of its support on Obama's slowly melting pledge to withdraw American combat troops within 16 months and start immediately.

Gates has been a loyal steward of the successful surge, which Obama long appeared reluctant to admit during the political season....

On paper at least Gates and Obama also disagree over the need for a European missile defense system now, with Obama saying he wants the technology to be more proven before any installation talk.
Perhaps someone will remember that last August, Gates was implicated by the New York Times as a prime participant in the Pentagon's own policy of secret detention in Iraq of foreign fighters, and rendition of prisoners to foreign countries, such as Saudi Arabia, where monitoring of interrogations and possible abuse is impossible. As the Times reported (emphases added):
Many of these militants are initially held, without notification to the Red Cross, sometimes for weeks at a time, in secret at a camp in Iraq and another in Afghanistan run by American Special Operations forces, the military officials said.

They said that foreign intelligence officers had been allowed access to these camps to question militants there, as a prelude to the transfers....

American military officials said the transfers required assurances that the prisoners would be well taken care of, but they would not specify those assurances, and human rights advocates questioned whether compliance could be monitored.

While the militants are in American custody, Pentagon rules allow them to be held at the Special Operations sites in Balad, Iraq, and Bagram, Afghanistan, for up to two weeks, with extensions permitted with the approval of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates or his representative, military officials said.
As Aaron Glantz noted in 2006, after the hearings approving Gates as Secretary of Defense:
No Senator asked Robert Gates about a plan he wrote for President Reagan for an invasion of Lybia to "redraw the map of Northern Africa." No one asked him about his record of falsifying intelligence during the Cold War and his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.

No Senator asked Robert Gates about his claim, in written testimony given before his public hearing, that he believes in the doctrine of preemptive strikes on other countries, the policy position that got us in the mess in Iraq.

No Senator asked Robert Gates about his claim, in written testimony given before his public hearing, that he believes Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction and that he still – even in hindsight – thought the invasion was a good thing.
Perhaps I am wrong. I'm quite ready to admit it. But you cannot stop the hydra-headed monster that is the military-industrial-intelligence establishment by playing musical chairs. Does it matter to the 200 opponents of Brennan that Gates was a primary participant in the military's own version of rendition, up to the present day (the Times story is actually dated last August)? Or that he has conducted secret detentions, prosecuted Bush's "War on Terror", as a supporter of the torture-loving Contras in Nicaragua under Reagan's term of office, or any number of negatives concerning this stalwart defender of the ruling elite?

Abstractly, I imagine the answer to the last question is yes. But concretely, campaigns such as the one that appears to have helped nix Brennan put illusions in the overall reformability of institutions that have a proven negative track record of human rights abuses and anti-democratic actions for over fifty years. In this day and age, one has to be practically a flame-breathing radical to note the CIA cannot be trusted, no matter who runs it.

I respect those who might argue against me that we have to pick and choose our battles, that we raise public consciousness through campaigns against public figures, and perhaps even do some good in the process. I cannot deny such arguments. While respecting such arguments, I also strongly believe that the dangers of sowing illusions about change are real, and that they disarm activists in the face of the struggle that really lies ahead.

Perhaps the disagreements elaborated herein are redolent of the old arguments of reform vs. revolution, or between stagist views of progress and change and those who see history as punctuated by qualitative leaps over old ways of thinking and doing. I think it's my fate to play the "ultra-left" role in this instance, and, in this instance, I'm not sorry to do it.

In any case, I am glad to see Brennan have to slink off (back to his job as CEO of the private intelligence company, Analysis Corporation). I salute those, like Stephen Soldz, who organized the letter-writing campaign, who have the guts to take on the powers that be. I hope they take my criticism with the good faith with which it's offered.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"They used to tell me I was building a dream..."

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931)
They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Capitalist Follies: Rancheros Visitadores, Citigroup, and the CIA

A posting the other day, quoting Chris Floyd on the machinations of the U.S. power elite, prompted a regular reader of mine to send a very interesting link to a story a friend of his worked on over the past few years.

As reported by Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Joel Connolly, Alejandro Tomas, a senior faculty member at Seattle Central Community College, has assembled a startling photo essay on one of the conclaves where the rich and privileged meet. The horse ride known as Rancheros Visitadores takes place every May in the Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara, Calif. The event is one of those elite conclaves that take place annually. The best known is probably the Bohemian Grove gathering near the Russian River in Northern California.

Connolly describes the doings at Rancheros Visitadores, where no women are allowed (except maybe prostitutes):
The men are shown with sex toys around their necks, doing skits in blackface, dressed in wigs and women's clothing and consuming copious quantities of alcoholic beverages....

Who goes on the ride? The club is exclusive, white and male, with a membership limited to 600. A couple hundred invited guests and guys from the wait list attend each year.

Photos from the 1989 ride show Reagan, an honorary member, on a buckboard beside former Interior Secretary William Clark. Gen. P.X. Kelly, commandant of the Marines, also is pictured....

"I was a little taken aback by many of the attitudes," Tomas said. "Here are men at the highest rungs of power in this country. Quite blatant forms of racism and anti-Semitism and misogyny are on display. ... The festive debauchery represents a cohesion of the power class. They seem to feel stronger by putting down others."
The Rancheros Visitadores is apparently one of a number of such events, or other "Rancheros" camps. Tomas co-wrote a paper on the event with two sociologists. According to Connolly:
They argue that the "special time" each May reaffirms the riders' sense that they are the chosen leaders of American society. "The Rancheros retreat reinforces the imminent morale or esprit de corps of the corporate leaders and the landed elite," the authors report.
Masters of the Universe, Do You Need a Dime?

The ruling class is more than a collection of ideologies and bank accounts. There is a cohesiveness to their rule that suggests a cultural and social interconnectivity that transcends mere political parties.

This has been made painfully clear in the collaboration between different political groupings to give billions of dollars away, with little or no control or oversight, to the Wall Street "masters of the universe" who have looted the economy of trillions of dollars with speculative schemes, and just out and out thievery. The latest egregious hit to the U.S. taxpayers for another financial bailout comes with the announcement of a mega-billion bailout to Citigroup.

As F. William Engdahl explains in an article at Global Research:
Citigroup and the government have identified a pool of about $306 billion in troubled assets. Citigroup will absorb the first $29 billion in losses. After that, remaining losses will be split between Citigroup and the government, with the bank absorbing 10% and the government absorbing 90%. The US Treasury Department will use its $700 billion TARP or Troubled Asset Recovery Program bailout fund, to assume up to $5 billion of losses. If necessary, the Government’s Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) will bear the next $10 billion of losses. Beyond that, the Federal Reserve will guarantee any additional losses. The measures are without precedent in US financial history.
Yet, no one in the mainstream political discourse argues to hold these criminals to account. Instead, aim has been taken lately against unions, like the UAW, who conservatives argue have made companies like GM non-competitive in the global marketplace, with their demands for humane work rules, a decent, living wage, health care, etc. Even when the liberals criticize the CEOs of the Big Three automakers, and argue that the lack of nationalized health care puts the car companies behind the economic eight-ball, they barely raise a peep when it's argued that everyone, including the workers, will have to sacrifice to "save" Big Auto (which means tearing up the union contracts, fought for by workers over decades).

In the latest sign of complete moral, ethical, and political collapse, Bloomberg now reports the capitalists' bailout will top $7 trillion dollars -- "half the value of everything produced in the nation last year"!!! For once, the use of multiple exclamation points fails to describe the exaggerated circumstances.

But will this near-total failure of the economic system lead any respectable mainstream or blogging analyst to question the bankruptcy of the capitalist system as a whole? Not unless you're waiting for Barack Obama to lay the foundation stone for a new mammoth statue of Joseph Stalin on the D.C mall. (The rot of communism -- really Stalinism -- was declared by sober folk on both the U.S. left and right, based on far less economic failure.)

A Nicer, Kinder CIA?

The liberal hopes in Obama's incoming administration demonstrates the inability to think beyond the parameters of acceptable political discourse, which means never challenging the right of capital to rule. Nor does it challenge the right of the U.S. to continue conducting covert operations wherever it wants around the world. The fact that Obama seeks to ramp up the latter in Pakistan deters the liberals nary a bit.

When John Brennan's name was floated for new CIA chief recently, a group of dissident psychologists who fought within the American Psychological Association to change their position on torture, and with whom I have sometimes been associated, launched a campaign to stop Obama from appointing Brennan, a former member of Tenet's CIA team. They rightly pointed out that Brennan was involved in decisions and policies that promoted torture against detainees held by the U.S. in the "war on terror."

But their protest letter says nothing about about CIA covert action, nor does it even question the existence of the CIA itself. It only seeks, in what I see as a sincere but Utopian fashion to reform that institution. From the letter, quoting Brennan first:
Even though people may criticize what has happened during the two Bush administrations, there has been a fair amount of continuity. A new administration, be it Republican or Democrat — you’re going to have a fairly significant change of people involved at the senior-most levels. And I would argue for continuity in those early stages. You don’t want to whipsaw the [intelligence] community. You don’t want to presume knowledge about how things fit together and why things are being done the way they are being done. And you have to understand the implication, then, of making any major changes or redirecting things. I’m hoping there will be a number of professionals coming in who have an understanding of the evolution of the capabilities in the community over the past six years, because there is a method to how things have changed and adapted.
In order to restore American credibility and the rule of law, our country needs a clear and decisive repudiation of the “dark side” at this crucial turning point in our history. We need officials to clearly and without ambivalence assert the rule of law. Mr. Brennan is not an appropriate choice to lead us in this direction. The country cannot afford to have him as director of our most important intelligence agencies.
As John Prados pointed out in his recent history of CIA covert wars, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA, the use of covert action has harmed U.S. foreign policy more than it has ever helped. Furthermore, both Democratic and Republican administrations have blocked any substantive change in the intelligence agency's charter, unwilling to forego the executive's power or use of covert action. If the psychologists wanted to send a powerful statement to President Obama, they would have called for the abolition of the CIA. But that's not a politically popular stance (at least these days).

Justice and Class Society

A very sick and sclerotic set of individuals essentially run the United States. They see nothing worth prosecuting when one of their own (George W. Bush) manipulates a country into a war that kills over a million civilians. They see nothing wrong in having a covert intelligence agency that wages war and commits assassinations wherever it wants in the world. They cry crocodile tears over the torture of detainees, but do nothing to disassemble the apparatus that perpetuates "touchless torture" (Darius Rejali's term in his magnificent compendium, Torture and Democracy).

The ingrained culture of class society, as represented in part by Tomas's photo essay on one ruling class ritual conclave, represents one of the most resistant aspects to change we truly and desperately need. It may have to all come tumbling down -- and how close we have come to that in recent days -- before the old social order gives up its ghost, and radically new ways of organizing society come into being. When the power elite fades into obscurity, so too will its championing of racial, sexual, and national/religious discrimination. (Anyone who believes the election of Obama has turned around things for African-Americans in this country should visit their local housing project, or better yet, their local jail or prison.)

Perhaps the political genius of Barack Obama (if genius he turns out to be) can hold off the inevitable, but the internal contradictions of a society that runs on class privilege and national supremacy over other countries is bound to lead to either collapse or conflagration sooner or later. We need bold action and bold leaders now.

A collection of Tomas's photos can be accessed here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Chris Floyd on Power Elites, the Bailout, & Afghanistan

Chris Floyd writes so well, and so often gets directly to the marrow of the problem, that there's nothing to do but reprint his words. I found the following particularly compelling, and they speak for themselves.
The economic disaster doesn't threaten the position of the imperial elites at all. On the contrary, as we have seen in the last few weeks, the Obama-backed "bailout" plan has enriched the already rich and powerful to a staggering degree. As CNBC reports, the government has spent more on saving the rich from the consequences of their greed than it spent in winning World War II: more than $4 trillion so far, with much more to come. This astonishing theft – the largest gobbling of public loot by a rapacious elite in the history of the world – will only further cement the powerful in their entrenchments on the commanding heights of society. The nation may rot beneath them, may be roiled by storms of blowback; but that is not their concern, it is no defeat for them. You can lose; they do not.

This is not to say that our elites don't tell themselves any number of flattering, self-justifying fairy tales about the boundless nobility and righteousness of their intentions. They can do this because they identify the interests of the system of elite rule (and the comfort, power and privilege they personally receive from the system) with the common good of the nation, or the world, as a whole. This allows them to pursue truly monstrous policies without regarding themselves as monsters. This allows them to order actions, such as the escalation of the destructive, destablizing conflict in Afghanistan, which they know, with absolute certainty, will needlessly murder innocent women, children and men -- and still talk earnestly and sincerely about their hopes for peace, their concern for humanity, their deep, abiding faith in a loving God. But again, as we have said over and over here, what matters are not the rhetorical justifications of power or the stated intentions of power -- or the charisma, likeability or compelling story of the wielders of power; what matters are the operations of power, its actual effects on the human beings on the receiving end of its machinations. Like love, power is what it does, not what it says.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

District Court Judge: No Reason to Hold Gitmo Prisoners

The news has spread like wildfire over the Internet, as U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ordered today the release of five Boumediene habeas defendants. According to the New York Times story:
It was the first hearing on the government’s evidence for holding detainees at Guantánamo. The judge... said the government’s secret evidence in the case had been weak: what he described as “a classified document from an unnamed source” for its central claim against the men, with little way to measure credibility.

“To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” Judge Leon said. He urged the government not to appeal and said the men should be released “forthwith.”
Vincent Warren, Executive Director of Center for Constitutional Rights, was released a statement calling the ruling a "major victory."
This decision makes it clear once again that even with presumptions in its favor, the government cannot muster the barest evidence in support of its arbitrary detentions. For seven years, the Bush administration sought to avoid the courts because it had no evidence and sought instead to create a lawless prison.

We must note that justice here, however, comes seven years too late. The restoration of habeas corpus is a great achievement, and what is necessary now is for the government to give up this charade, rescind the ‘enemy combatant’ labels slapped on recklessly by combatant status review tribunals and return the men at Guantanamo to their home countries or, for those needing resettlement or asylum, to a safe third country.

We hope a new administration makes restoring the lives of hundreds of men at Guantanamo who have never been charged with any crime or tried in a court of law a top priority. Guantánamo Bay is a failure by every measure and must be closed immediately.
It should be noted, however, that according to ScotusBlog the judge "found, however, that the government had justified the continued imprisonment of a sixth detainee, Belkacem Bensayah. (The ruling is available here.)" Furthermore:
The judge, in an unusual added comment, suggested to senior government leaders that they forgo an appeal of his ruling on freeing the five prisoners. While conceding that the government had a right to appeal that part of his ruling, Leon commented that he, too, had “a right to appeal” to leaders of the Justice Department, Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies, and his plea was that they look at the evidence regarding the five he was ordering released. “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to their legal question is enough,” he commented.
While this may sound like the judge was fed up with administration meddling -- and he certainly was not happy about the evidence in this case -- his comments about the ruling included a swipe at the Supreme Court's decision in Boumediene.
The judge appeared to be mildly critical of the Supreme Court’s ruling on detainees’ habeas rights, saying that ”the practical effect of imposing the habeas process on the world of intelligence-gathering” is “to create a virtually limitless complex of novel and difficult questions; as a result, the precedential value [of his decision] should be and is limited to these cases.”
The defense says it will appeal the ruling on Bensayah.

Overall, this looks like at best a partial victory. It certainly is great for the five Algerian prisoners long held at Guantanamo. But the lack of precedential value, and the backhanded criticism of SCOTUS's habeas rulings, makes this a murky brew indeed. Critics of Bush's GWOT have looked too long to the courts to undo the administration's attacks on civil liberties and its turn to torture practices. It will take massive political action to really put a stop to the attacks on rights coming from Washington.

APA Meeting Mulls Over Interrogation Policy Changes

The American Psychological Association's Presidential Advisory Group on the Implementation of the Petition Resolution met at APA offices in Washington, D.C. last weekend. The "Petition Resolution" refers to the stunning victory of a referendum vote by APA membership last summer that officially changed that organization's policy, banning members from participating in interrogations or other activities at sites that are in violation of international or domestic law. (Read the Referendum's full text here.) The victory of the resolution won major media attention.

Previously, while passing formal resolutions against torture and psychologist participation in torture, APA had championed the use of military (and CIA) psychologists at national security sites where interrogations took place. While arguing that psychologists kept interrogations safe, an avalanche of revelations showed that, on the contrary, some psychologists had been intimately involved in the abuse.

The petition was the brainchild of doctoral candidate Dan Aalbers, who worked in collaboration with psychologists Ruth Fallenbaum and Brad Olson, both leaders of an ongoing effort to convince APA members to withhold their dues until APA changed their policy on interrogations.

But by last weekend, with the victory of the anti-torture referendum, Aalbers, Fallenbaum, and Olson, met with the other members of the APA advisory group, hand-picked from APA's Board of Directors and Council of Representatives. By the accounts of the petition's originators, the meeting went well.

According to reports, APA was very open to guaranteeing complete transparency of the meeting, allowing tape recording of sessions. In addition, all recommendations from group members were to be included in the report to be written by President Kazdin to the Council of Representatives. The Council meets next February and will consider all the "options" presented to them. According to the account I read, Kazdin's report will "include clarification of questions raised by members regarding the new policy, many of which revolve around where and to whom the policy applies." Aalbers, Fallenbaum, and Olson promise to reiterate the same positions regarding implementation of the resolution as appeared in their written statements last summer.

It seemed to the pro-resolution attendees at last weekend's meeting that the APA bureaucracy had accepted that the resolution was now APA policy. This has certainly been the public position taken by the organization. While "cautiously optimistic" things will turn out well, everyone is aware that the battle to make concrete the resolution's policy turns now to APA's Council of Representatives.

APA is a federated organization, with many interest divisions. (The military psychologists, for instance, have their own division, number 19, the Society for Military Psychology.) It was a Council vote in August 2007 that defeated an attempt to remove psychologists from all but clinical roles at sites like Guantanamo. But the political situation is different today, and the vote of the membership for such a removal weighs heavily over the APA bureaucracy. On the other side of the scale are years of connections with the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies, and the lucrative promise of jobs for some psychologists, and money for myriad government related research programs, which APA fears losing.

The most immediate way to implement the resolution would be to include its provisions in the organization's Code of Ethics. This would only make sense if, at the same time, that APA's Ethics Code 1.02 was rewritten or rescinded. It allows psychologists to obey commands and "governing legal authority," even when an action is at variance with professional ethics. Rewritten after 9/11, 1.02 remains a virtual get-out-of-jail card for military psychologists engaged in abusive interrogations. Opponents have compared it to 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, but no action has been taken to date.

The membership of APA owes a debt of gratitude to the activists who championed the resolution, and are now trying to implement its provisions in a very real way. And, given the importance of APA policy to Pentagon operations in the way of interrogations, really the entire country owes a debt of gratitude to these unsung individuals.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Woman Buried Alive: Update on the Siddiqui Case

More details are emerging on the news that purported Al Qaeda prisoner in U.S. custody, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, has been declared mentally unfit to stand trial. Arrested last summer, and wounded after supposedly grabbing for a U.S. soldier's rifle, Siddiqui was given a Forensic Evaluation Report at FMC Carsville Texas Hospital, where she is currently held. This former neuroscientist is now said to be unable to understand the nature of the proceedings before her, and to be openly delusional.

The assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting Siddiqui's case denied in court NGO claims that the former MIT and Brandeis alumna was tortured or abducted by U.S. forces. He maintains there's not "a shred of evidence" Dr. Siddiqui was abused in any way.
He said it was more likely that Siddiqui disappeared in 2003 because she went into hiding after marrying an al-Qaida operative who helped facilitate the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and because she knew 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

[Prosecutor David] Raskin spoke at a hearing Wednesday to discuss a psychologist's conclusion that Siddiqui, 36, is mentally unfit for trial. She is being held at a Texas facility after she was brought to the United States in August to face attempted murder and assault charges.
Raskin also denied the U.S. had anything to do with the disappearance of Siddiqui's three children. He claimed a 12-year-old found with Aafia at the time of her arrest in Afghanistan was her oldest son. While this boy is said to be now with his grandmother, the U.S. attorney was vague about the others, saying only the government denied they had been abducted.

We don't know what really happened to Dr. Siddiqui's children. They are missing, thousands of miles away, or dead. Yet according to her attorney, Aafia is under the delusion that two of her children are with her, that she lives with them.

According to the AP report (linked above), Dr. Siddiqui's attorney, Elizabeth Fink, says her client's oldest son is "heavily medicated because he is seriously disturbed and under the care of a psychiatrist." The second oldest is believed dead, and the fate of the youngest child is unknown. (Siddique's attorney, Fink, is a well-known civil liberties lawyer, a protege of William Kunstler. Most recently, she "persuaded a judge to spare Lynne Stewart, the radical attorney convicted of conspiracy for passing messages for [an accused] terrorist client, of a lengthy prison term.")

Meanwhile, Associated Press of Pakistan has reported that the Pakistan embassy in Washington has asked the United States to repatriate Dr. Siddiqui to Pakistan for health and rehabilitation purposes. According to another paper out of Islamabad, the request is considered a long-shot. It's not clear that Siddiqui would be treated well in Pakistani custody either, given the accusations of connection, or even her relation by marriage to Khalid Sheik Mohammad.

That family connection between Siddiqui and KSM raises large question marks concerning her treatment by U.S. forces and the legal system. In the mind-boggling mistreatment of this devoutly religious woman, the U.S. (and perhaps their Pakistani allies) may wish to make a statement to the jihadists that not only will they be hunted down, but any sympathetic family members will be as well. And if innocent children get in the way... well, who knows? Who knows, for instance, what happened to the children of KSM himself, taken from his house when he was arrested and disappeared under CIA/Pakistani custody? Who in America, obsessed otherwise with missing children and Amber Alerts, really cares what happened to these children?

A Ghost Prisoner?

According to a 2007 Human Rights Watch report on "Ghost Prisoners" of the CIA:
The Pakistani authorities have made no secret of the fact that they have handed over several hundred terrorism suspects to the United States, boasting of the arrests and transfers as proof of Pakistan’s cooperation in US counterterrorism efforts. While the majority of these detainees were transferred into US military custody in Afghanistan or at Guantanamo,49 or were transported to third countries via the CIA’s rendition program,50 some substantial number of them disappeared into CIA custody.
Was Siddiqui tortured unto insanity in at Baghram or at a CIA black site prison? Here's an account from earlier this year, prior to Siddiqui's "recapture" (emphasis is added):
Dr. Afia Siddiqui left her mother’s house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, Sindh province, along with her three children, in a Metro-cab on March 30, 2003 to catch a flight for Rawalpindi, Punjab province, but never reached the airport. The press reports claimed that Dr. Afia had been picked-up by Pakistani intelligence agencies while on her way to the airport and initial reports suggested that she was handed over to the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). At the time of her arrest she was 30 years and the mother of three sons the oldest of which was four and the youngest only one month.

A few days later an American news channel, NBC, reported that Afia had been arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for terror networks of Osama Bin Laden. The mother of the victim, Mrs. Ismat (who has since passed away) termed the NBC report absurd. She went on to say that Dr. Afia is a neurological scientist and has been living with her husband, Amjad, in the USA for several years.

On April 1, 2003, a small news item was published in an Urdu daily with reference to a press conference of the then Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat. When questioned with regard to Dr. Afia’s arrest he denied that she had been arrested. This was followed by another Urdu daily article on April 2 regarding another press conference in which the same minister said Dr. Afia was connected to Al Qaeda and that she had not been arrested as she was absconding....

Whilst Dr. Afia’s whereabouts remain unknown, there are reports of a woman called ‘Prisoner 650′ is being detained in Afghanistan’s Bagram prison and that she has been tortured to the point where she has lost her mind. Britain’s Lord Nazeer Ahmed, (of the House of Lords), asked questions in the House about the condition of Prisoner 650 who, according to him is physically tortured and continuously raped by the officers at prison. Lord Nazeer has also submitted that Prisoner 650 has no separate toilet facilities and has to attend to her bathing and movements in full view of the other prisoners.

Also, on July 6, 2008 a British journalist, Yvonne Ridley [link added], called for help for a Pakistani woman she believes has been held in isolation by the Americans in their Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan, for over four years. “I call her the ‘grey lady’ because she is almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continues to haunt those who heard her,” Ms Ridley said at a press conference.
Is it any coincidence that we hear "Prisoner 650" had "lost her mind" and the fact that a U.S. state forensic examiner has found Dr. Siddiqui unfit mentally to stand trial? Those who know the judicial system know that is very rare to receive that diagnosis and escape, or be denied, trial. You have to be very, very mentally impaired for that to happen. How did this brilliant woman become a hallucinating ghost of a human being? What tortures did she endure? Was she Prisoner 650, raped repeatedly in a CIA prison? Recent events surely strengthen that hypothesis.

It sickens the heart and chills the soul to think that such things can happen, and that the country I live in helped perpetrate such crimes, and that the millions of citizens who inhabit this country would stand by and let this and equally horrific crimes go unanswered in court of justice or in the halls of its representative Congress.

"Murder will out," Shakespeare famously said. The tell-tale heart we read about in Edgar Allen Poe's famous story beats in us all, and the shards of a broken conscience are scattered across the landscape of our society's recovery. There will be no "change," they cry out, not until we have rendered justice and restored law, and taken our victims out of the torture pit, and tried to restore them to life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Four Recommended Articles

A lot of good work is being done by numerous bloggers these days, especially in the field of human rights. The controversy over what a President Obama's administration if and when Guantanamo is closed (which Obama promised to do in the first days of his term) has brought forth some important analyses, especially in the light of a recent New York Times article suggesting that some on Obama's transition team are pushing for a post-Guantanamo "preventive detention" law for "terrorists."

Smintheus has a good analysis of the arguments around "preventive detention in his article, "The 'debate' about Gitmo," at
Interwoven into this shameless assault on accountability and the rule of law are several preposterous (and therefore unstated) assumptions. In particular we're supposed to accept that certain prisoners are indescribably dangerous...more dangerous than the attack on our legal tradition...and that the Bush administration has lots of reliable information that "someone is a threat" though it can't be proved in court. An essential corollary is the assumption that these somebodies are critical operatives in the machinery of terrorism. Their release, we're to suppose, would lead inevitably to further acts of terror, whereas their continued detention prevents terrorism....

In any event, a single reason for rejecting that assumption is sufficiently devastating that there's little point in dwelling upon any others. And that is this: The Bush administration has shown again and again that it does not truly believe the inflated allegations it directs against Gitmo prisoners.

For example, obscured in the 'debate' thus far concerning what to do about Guantanamo is the Seton Hall study delivered in August to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That's a huge omission. This meticulous study (PDF) documents how many former prisoners have been released to their home countries, and how little correlation there has been between the rate and speed of their release, on the one hand, and the gravity of the Bush administration's allegations against them on the other.
Meanwhile, Scott Horton has a thought-provoking article over at Harper's, responding to the AP article suggesting that Obama's incoming administration is favoring investigations of the Bush administration over prosecutions.
The Obama transition team is enormous and it is peopled, appropriately enough, with a number of figures who have direct experience in the Bush Administration’s war on terror. No problem with that–in fact, Obama would be remiss if he failed to build such experience into his team. But there are a number of names in play right now who have troubling connections to the “dark side” of the intelligence community’s war on terror and who have pressing reasons to lobby against any investigation of any sort. Why? Because their own judgment-calls might come under unpleasant scrutiny. Just some for-instances:

  • John Brennan, who regularly surfaces as a key Obama advisor on intelligence issues and is supposedly in the running for a key intelligence community post. Brennan has a completely ambiguous record on the torture issue, depending on whether he speaks from the agency, as a commentator or on behalf of President-Elect Obama.

  • Jamie Miscik, another intelligence community careerist who was very close to the WMD in Iraq imbroglio and more recently was a key player at Lehman–and now understandably needs a new roof–is another figure who would clearly rather avoid a probe of the torture issue.

  • And finally Jamie Gorelick, a former key Clinton Justice Department official who, according to intelligence community sources, took a whopping retainer from the CIA to counsel and protect the psychologists who crafted the guts of the Bush torture program. [Horton in an article last January specifically named the clients as Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, SERE psychologists working under contract to the CIA.] Gorelick, a Hillary Clinton partisan, is also a name in play for a senior intelligence post.
  • While the battle over Guantanamo rages, Stephen Soldz has written an article for activists in the health professions, and particularly psychology, over what course an anti-torture campaign should take (big PDF file).
    Activist psychologists have achieved an amazing feat in transforming APA policy. In the process we have created a broad, decentralized movement. We brought together many individuals and organizations that collectively were able successfully to challenge the largest mental health organization in the world. This movement shines as a beacon to other activists, showing what a democratic participatory polity can accomplish. It has been noticed by many around the world who are trying to shake off the despair generated by the "global war on terror." It encourages those struggling to transform violent, authoritarian institutions and cultures in the U.S. and elsewhere....

    However, our task is far from over. I will end with a cautionary note. In the wider society, the fight against torture and human-rights abuses is never-ending. With luck, we will soon put an end to the Bush Administration's experiment with legalized torture in national security interrogations. But U.S. support for torture likely will not totally end. Intelligence work, by its nature, occurs in the shadows, away from public oversight. Further, as the scholar Darius Rejali revealed in his magisterial work Torture and Democracy, modern forms of torture, including psychological torture, through their lack of clear, tell-tale signs, were designed precisely to avoid democratic oversight.

    Only continual vigilance, combined with cultural change, can remove our nation from the list of those conducting or condoning torture.
    Finally, I want to highlight a recent report on a talk by former Rhode Island Chief Justice and now Chief Judge of the Court of Military Commission Review at Guantanamo, Frank J. Williams. The interview is by Annie, an intrepid blogger on human rights, posted online last September at Home of the Brave. Though a few months old now, the article is a telling look into the psychology of those who are actually running the U.S.'s detention and torture machine, and to the psychology of fear they expound:
    He cited Lincoln’s declaration of the president deriving power from the consent of the governed.

    But he then went on to state that Lincoln did what he had to do by whatever [means] it took. That’s when I got ready for the fear mongering, and just as expected, he let it fly.

    “Even the liberals who abhor Bush acknowledge the danger.”

    He conflates abhorring the harm to the Constitution with abhorring the man.

    He self-justified the military commissions by repeatedly declaring that the US is in a national crisis of being terrorized. He referred to the Global War on Terror as a military war instead of as an ideology, and I do not believe that he realized that he is conflating terms and their implications.

    He believed that Lincoln felt he had to act in suspending habeas corpus in the interest of the nation’s self preservation, and he expressed his great fear of a nuclear attack on Americans, with harm to millions.
    That's four very interesting articles, a selection out of many that are available during this period of heightened political awareness and activism, in the dwindling twilight of the Bush regime's rule.

    Monday, November 17, 2008

    "The Curious Case Against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui" (Updated)

    I've been meaning to write my own essay on this important story for some time. Being strapped for time these days, I'm thankful to Alexa at Never In Our Names for doing a great job in her rendition of The Curious Case Against Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.

    According to a Wikipedia entry, Dr. Siddiqui was "a MIT and Brandeis alumna, originally from Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. In 2004, she was accused by the United States Government of being "associated with al-Qaeda". In March 2003, Siddiqui went missing along with her three children." Siddiqui essentially disappeared, along with her children -- probably "ghost prisoners" of the CIA -- and then surprisingly turned up under arrest in Ghazni, Afghanistan, although the circumstances of her appearance and arrest are a subject of much dispute.

    I continue, quoting from Alexa's story (which should be read in its entirety):
    Five years after she vanished from her parents' home in Karachi along with her three children, Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui appeared in a New York court in August, accused of trying to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan.

    Accounts of her arrest and the shooting incident differ.

    The Official Story is that Siddiqui, 36, was arrested outside the governor's office in Afghanistan's Ghazni province on July 17 after police searched her handbag and found documents on making explosives, excerpts from the book "Anarchist's Arsenal" and descriptions of New York City landmarks, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

    The next day when U.S. soldiers and FBI agents went to question the U.S.-trained neuroscientist, she attacked them, the (PDF) Justice Department said in a statement. She fired two shots using the rifle of one of the U.S.. army officers but nobody was hit. The officer then fired back at her, using his service pistol and at least one shot hit her, the Justice Department said.

    Afghan police in Ghazni however, told a different story, according to a report filed by Reuters. Afghan police said officers searched Siddiqui after reports of her suspicious behaviour and found maps of Ghazni, including one of the governor's house, and arrested her along with a teenage boy.

    U.S. troops requested the woman be handed over to them, but the police refused, a senior Ghazni police officer said.

    U.S. soldiers then proceeded to disarm the Afghan police at which point Siddiqui approached the Americans complaining of mistreatment by the police. The U.S. troops, the officer said, "thinking that she had explosives and would attack them as a suicide bomber, shot her and and took her". The boy remained in police custody.

    Whatever the circumstance, Siddiqui was then flown to New York where she appeared in a wheelchair, looking frail and, according to her lawyers, in urgent need of medical attention.

    The case bears recounting, not just because Siddiqui is a MIT educated mother of three, but because it has roused strong passions, especially in Pakistan.

    Since the time of her disappearance in 2003, human rights groups have alleged Siddiqui had been taken into secret custody, one of thousands of Pakistanis who had disappeared in the U.S.-led war on al Qaeda and Taliban. They said they believed she was in Bagram, the U.S. air base in Afghanistan.

    U.S. authorities strongly denied Siddiqui was in custody, and according to the New York Times, military and intelligence officials believed her to be in Pakistan until her arrest in Afghanistan in July.

    Protests have taken place in Karachi, Lahore and even outside the court in Manhattan where Siddiqui appeared. The anger is directed as much, if not more, at the Pakistani government and its agencies who are accused of handing over Siddiqui to the United States as at Washington itself.

    There are online petitions seeking Siddiqui's release and others warning this is only the tip of the iceberg and that there are many others at risk. Comments on blogs reflect anger, shame and helplessness to undo what many see as a terrible wrong done to her.

    Count me in on that. Aafia went to MIT and Brandeis, married a Brigham and Women's physician, made her home in Boston, cared for her children, and raised money for charities. Aafia Siddiqui was a normal woman living a normal American life. Until the FBI called her a terrorist.
    Everything about the Siddiqui case smells. Alexa quotes defense attorney Elaine Whitfield Sharp, courtesy of Cage Prisoners:
    "We do know she was at Bagram for a long time. It was a long time. According to my client she was there for years and she was held in American custody; her treatment was horrendous."
    The story continues:
    On September 3, Siddiqi, 36, was produced before a federal grand jury in New York, which indicted her for possession of handwritten notes referring to a 'mass casualty attack' at various prominent locations in the US, such as Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge.

    However, activists and her family believe that she is being targeted. "An ordinary Pakistani [has been] wrongfully taken to a foreign country without established judicial processes," said Dr Fouzia Siddiqui, Aafia's elder sister. Even the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has insisted that she was picked up by a Pakistani intelligence agency and handed over to the US authorities.

    The picture that was released when she was brought to the court in New York showed a woman who seemed to have experienced years of torture - a broken and badly fixed nose, made up teeth, and crumbled lips. The HRCP described her as a person "almost as if on the deathbed". Gaunt, wounded, she was unable to even walk by herself....

    ... Aafia has been suffering and in pain in US prison for more than three months now. There are fears that she is now being brainwashed in order to render her incapable of giving evidence against any atrocities that might have been committed against her....

    Two children of the victim are still missing. If they are still alive then it is possible that they are being used as hostages to pressure her. Allegations of her illegal detention, rape, etc, and the abduction of her children, are going unaddressed. Can she get justice from the US legal system?

    That question will arise only after a case is brought up to seek justice for her.
    The case of Aafia Siddiqui is especially heart-rending and infuriating. Nothing speaks to the inherent racism of the U.S. treatment of people from the Middle East and East Asia than the brutal indifference accompanying the disappearance of this mother's children, lost in U.S. custody, and likely held hostage. Where is the outrage in the U.S. press, who cried crocodile tears not so long ago about the way Michael Jackson held his child out a window to an admiring throng? Whose T.V. sets are filled with stories about dangers to "our" children, with "Amber Alerts", and fake concern about children and drugs? Siddiqui and her children are invisible to the Americans.

    I thank Alexa at Never In Our Names for keeping hope for Dr. Siddiqui alive, and shining a bright light of anger and indignation into the darkest shadows of the U.S. "war on terror."

    UPDATE: Not long after posting this article, ABC News reported that a mental health examination of Dr. Siddiqui in conjunction with her trial in New York federal court found the doctor to be mentally unfit to stand trial.
    According to a Nov. 6, 2008, confidential forensic examination from a federal medical center in Carswell, Texas, mental health professionals have concluded, "Ms. Siddiqui is not currently competent to proceed as a result of her mental disease, which renders her unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her or to assist properly in her defense."

    An excerpt of the evaluation was mentioned in the judge's order calling for a Wednesday hearing to address her mental health to stand trial.
    My god, what has happened to this woman? How have they destroyed her?

    Americans should demand an immediate investigation into the handling of the investigation, arrest, treatment under custody, and judicial hearings around Dr. Siddiqui.

    The Forgotten Men: New UC Report on "Guantanamo and its Aftermath"

    Last summer, Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First released Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by the U.S. The study looked at medical and psychological evidence of the costs of torture by eleven men who endured such abuse by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay.

    Now, University of California, Berkeley's Human Rights Center, in conjunction with the International Human Rights Law Clinic and Center for Constitutional Rights, has released a report on the medical and psychological condition of 62 detainees released over the years from Guantanamo. According to a press release by the university:
    The report, "Guantanamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Detainees," based on a two-year study, reveals in graphic detail the cumulative effect of Bush Administration policies on the lives of 62 released detainees. Many of the prisoners were sold into captivity and subjected to brutal treatment in U.S. prison camps in Afghanistan. Once in Guantanamo, prisoners were denied access to civilian courts to challenge the legality of their detention. Almost two-thirds of the former detainees interviewed reported having psychological problems since leaving Guantanamo....

    Researchers conducted interviews with released detainees in nine countries. The comprehensive study also includes in-depth interviews with key government officials, military experts, former guards, interrogators and other camp personnel.
    As the Bush Administration winds down into it ignominious end, President-elect Obama has made clear -- most recently in a 60 Minutes interview last night -- he will very early on use his executive power to close Guantanamo and put an end to torture. It's not clear yet what will happen to the over 200 detainees still held prisoner at Guantanamo, or whether other prisons will be closed, or even whether any executive order will pertain to CIA activities. When Laurence Tribe, an Obama legal advisor and his former law professor argued the other day that perhaps a new federal judiciary system was needed to deal with the Guantanamo prisoners, the idea was quickly scotched (at least for now) by Obama's spokepeople.

    "I've Lost My Will"

    Almost 800 prisoners have been dragged through the torture chambers of Guantanamo. Reams of words have been written, and scores of legal cases filed in an effort to either end or excuse the mistreatment wrought there. Reporting in today's San Francisco Chronicle, Bob Egelko, describes some of the stories from the HRC report:
    "I've lost my property. I've lost my job. I've lost my will," said an Afghan man, one of 62 former inmates in nine countries interviewed anonymously by UC Berkeley researchers for a newly released report.

    Another man, jobless and destitute, said his family kicked him out after he returned, and his wife went to live with her relatives. "I have a plastic bag holding my belongings that I carry with me all the time," he said. "And I sleep every night in a different mosque."
    UC Berkeley's press release quotes the HRC study as documenting the use at Guantanamo of "being subjected to short shackling, stress positions, prolonged solitary confinement, and exposure to extreme temperatures, loud music, and strobe lights for extended periods -- often simultaneously." Some detainees reported even worse abuse at the U.S. detention center at Baghram, Afghanistan, where prisoners were threatened with dogs, regularly beaten, and suspended by their arms for hours on end.

    And yet:
    Most detainees interviewed for the study were not vengeful toward America, but simply expressed a desire for justice and an opportunity to clear their names.
    The suffering of these detainees is heart-breaking. Their wish to recover a normal life should be at the top of the list for a country with so many broken promises and difficult crises dropped into its lap in the wake of one of the most sinister and criminal administrations to ever rule this or any other ostensibly democratic country.

    A Terrible Moral Failure

    The role of doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists at these torture centers is not left unmentioned. As the report describes it:
    ... since late 2002, military psychologists and psychiatrists serving on Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) have played an active role in developing and implementing interrogation strategies at Guantánamo....

    Interrogation policies and standards at Guantánamo changed over time, but the data demonstrate that some practices remained consistent throughout the period when the study respondents were held there (January 2002 to January 2007). While more needs to be revealed about the specific interrogation techniques used at Guantánamo, it appears that many of the methods which detainees complained about most bitterly -- cold rooms and short shackling, in conjunction with prolonged isolation -- were permitted under the U.S. military’s interrogation guidelines in force from April 2003 to September 2006... These practices contravene the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which the United States ratified in 1955....

    To date, no independent, comprehensive investigation has been conducted to determine the role that camp personnel as well as officials farther up the civilian and military chains of command played in the design and implementation of interrogation
    techniques at Guantánamo. No broad investigation has yet addressed whether or not these officials should be held accountable for any crimes they or their subordinates may have committed.
    Elsewhere in the report, the authors describe the function of the BSCT teams:
    A principal BSCT function was to engineer the camp experiences of “priority” detainees to make interrogation more productive. BSCT personnel coached interrogators on how to stress, coerce, and offer incentives to secure information from detainees. BSCT personnel “prepared psychological profiles [of detainees] for use by interrogators; they also sat in on some interrogations, observed others from behind one-way mirrors, and offered feedback to interrogators"... Army medical personnel also provided medical information to interrogators... In a confidential report, the International Committee for the Red Cross called the participation of doctors in designing interrogation plans a “flagrant violation of medical ethics"... In 2006, in response to publicity about the clinical participation in coercive interrogations at Guantánamo, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association endorsed more stringent guidelines for military doctors and psychiatrists who are asked to participate in interrogations... In 2008, after several years of often acrimonious debate, members of the American Psychological Association voted to prohibit consultation by its members in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantánamo or so-called “black sites” operated by the CIA overseas.
    A Call for Justice

    The Human Rights Center and their partners are insistent that the crimes committed by the United States around torture cannot and should not go without further investigation. Hundreds of detainees remains incarcerated without ever being accused of any crime. Evidence of torture and abuse is overwhelming, the deleterious personal, medical and psychological consequences for those caught in this torture web and then released is also strongly convincing. Per Egelko's article:
    "We cannot sweep this dark chapter in our nation's history under the rug by simply closing the Guantanamo prison camp," said Eric Stover, director of UC Berkeley's Human Rights Center. "The new administration must investigate what went wrong and who should be held accountable."
    The news is so dark every day, with thousands thrown out of their jobs seemingly every day, and millions more fearing they will lose theirs. The wreck that is American society has so many vital issues facing it, that it seems easy to let the sufferings of "only" a few hundred or thousand go unanswered. The latest leaks around Obama's plans to investigate or prosecute Bush officials for war crimes indicate an Obama administration will lean towards some investigation, and steer away from prosecutions. (See recent stories by Mark Benjamin at Salon, and Lara Jakes Jordan at Associate Press.) Meanwhile, Bush is said to be considering a massive blanket pardon for those involved in his interrogation policies. Some argue that such a pardon could facilitate a "truth and reconciliation" investigation.

    In the end, no one knows yet what Obama will do, or what Bush will do (although I'm betting he will issue the pardons). What is clear is that among all the other crucial issues facing the U.S. at this point in time, we must solve a huge moral dilemma: what do we do when the government blatantly and recklessly disregards human rights or lives, when it kills or tortures? Do we stand back and let it pass, in the name of political expediency? What shame and moral rot will we have to endure? How can we rise from the muck of this terrible period in our history if we do not both witness and pay out with justice the ineffable suffering of the innocent made in our name, and now forever etched with acid on the soul of the country?

    Update: Interested readers will want to read Scott Horton's latest piece at Harper's (subscription required) on the rationale and possibilities around prosecuting Bush Administration figures for torture and war crimes. A nice summary of Horton's article was also made by Compound F at Docudharma (no subscription required).

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