Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gitmo Detainee Death Mystery Deepens with News of Drug Overdose

Charlie Savage at the New York Times reports that "several people briefed on a Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry" into the death of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who was found unresponsive in his cell last September, have revealed that the prisoner "died from an overdose of psychiatric medication."

As Savage notes, the military autopsy has reportedly declared Latif died a suicide. Accordingly, investigators are said to be following up a scenario wherein the Yemeni detainee, recently moved from the psychiatric ward to a disciplinary solitary unit at Camp 5, hoarded medications somehow, and used them to overdose last September 8.

To date, we do not know what kinds of medications were involved, except they were "psychiatric" in nature. Nor do we know how many different medications were supposedly involved. While the Times article implies investigators are looking at pills, as explained below, Latif also received forceable injections of drugs at various times.

Jason Leopold broke the story labeling Latif's death a suicide in a November 26 article at Truthout. The autopsy report itself has not been publicly released, and has been the subject of wrangling between U.S. and Yemen authorities, a dispute that has left the former Guantanamo's body in limbo (allegedly frozen) at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Cause of Death vs. Manner of Death

While the government is pushing a suicide scenario, the facts of the case are, as Savage describes them, "murky." The NYT reporter cites alternate scenarios for a drug overdose put forward by one of Latif's civilian attorneys.
David Remes, a lawyer who represented Mr. Latif in a habeas corpus lawsuit, said there was reason to be suspicious about how his client was overmedicated, voicing skepticism that he could have hoarded his daily dosages without detection. He noted that Mr. Latif was under “intense scrutiny” — including regular monitoring by guards and cameras....

Mr. Remes, who has not seen the autopsy report, suggested that Mr. Latif instead may have negligently been given too many pills that day, which the lawyer doubted, or that the authorities might have deliberately given him access to too much medication hoping he would kill himself.
Intentional suicidal overdose, accidental overdose, and facilitated suicide aka murder are not the only possibilities. But before proceeding with that discussion, one should be clear that the revelation that Latif died of a drug overdose only refers to the cause of death, which moreover would have had to have been drug-related cardiac or respiratory arrest. But the manner of death speaks to what agency or circumstances brought about the cause of death, in this case, the drug overdose.

Broadly speaking, the manner of death had to have been either accidental, or intentional -- with intent attributed to the victim (suicide) or to the intent of others (murder). There are nuances between these. For instance, an accident in a medical setting could have been due to negligence or even malpractice. The idea of facilitated suicide -- a scenario I previously floated in relation to the death of another Guantanamo purported suicide, that of Mohammed Salih Al Hanashi -- combines malicious intent by others with suicidal intent by a prisoner.

Of course, one possibility is that Latif was murdered outright, e.g. that someone came into his cell and forced him to take drugs, or that drugs were placed in his food, or forcibly injected. One problem with the long period that elasped with Latif's body probably not adequately preserved is that now for evidence of any struggle we will have to rely singly upon the military's autopsy report.

The idea of the military covertly administering drugs is not that outrageous. Recently, it was revealed that DoD had put drugs into the food of David Hicks, an Australian detainee released in 2007, before he was brought before a hearing at the U.S.-run Cuban prison camp.

Another possible mode of death might have been via what has come to be called accidental death via "polypharmacy." As critics of psychiatric practice have noted, drugs are often prescribed in too great a number, with some drugs prescribed to deal with side effects of other drugs, until the total number of drugs prescribed becomes dangerous, and the interaction between drugs prescribed unpredictable.

The Department of Defense has been criticized for just this kind of practice, as described in this February 2011 Psychology Today article by Dr. Allen Frances, "psychiatry professor emeritus and former chairman of psychiatry, Duke University who chaired the DSM-IV Task Force revision."

"Individual psychotropic drugs can have serious side effects -- in excessive combination they sometimes threaten respiratory and cardiac function in a potentially lethal way," Frances wrote. "And the whole is even more dangerous than the sum of its parts since the medications can interact to increase each other's blood levels. Prescription drugs are overtaking illegal drugs as the primary cause of accidental overdose and death."

Were Injections of "Chemical Restraints" Involved in Latif's "Overdose"?

In an October 18 story by Jason Leopold on the abuse Latif suffered at Guantanamo, Leopold reported on numerous instances of forcibly drugging of Latif by camp medical authorities. This drugging apparently included forced injections of "sedatives." The exact nature of the drugs are unknown, but an Inspector General report on use of "mind-altering" drugs on detainees "for purposes of interrogation," released via my FOIA request and analyzed by both Leopold and myself, noted that detainees at times were administered "chemical restraints."

I have made multiple requests to DoD officials to ask what drugs were used as chemical restraints. To date, no one from DoD has replied to my queries.

One of the few drugs mentioned in the IG report was Haldol, which was administered as an injection to  Guantanamo detainee Adel al-Nusairi (referred to as IG-02 in the report). According to the IG, haldol is a powerful antipsychotic medication, whose side effects include lethargy, tremors, anxiety, mood changes and "an inability to remain motionless," among other disturbing effects.

The government has used haldol injections in other detention settings as well, most notoriously by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for purposes of deportation of immigrants. A May 13, 2008 article in the Washington Post described the dangers of using the drug:
In September, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert citing "a number of case reports of sudden death" and other reports of dangerous changes in heart rhythm. It is, important, the FDA warned, to inject Haldol only into muscles, not veins, and to avoid doses that are too high.
Federal officials finally greatly reduced use of haldol for sedation of deportees in 2009, after much public criticism and threat of lawsuits. But it is unknown to what degree the drug or others like it are currently used at Guantanamo or other DoD detention settings.

Did Latif receive haldol injections, or any other kind of drug injection (as, for instance, risperidone) in the week or two prior to his death? We shouldn't have to wait years to get an answer to this question. Indeed, this case in particular cries out for a full, independent, public investigation.

Death Threats

The absurdity of conducting a military investigation in this instance is manifest when one considers that in the weeks prior to Latif's death he was threatened with death by one or more Guantanamo guards.

The full story about this was reported by Jason Leopold in his November 26 article, but essentially, as reconstructed via detainee accounts given to David Remes, Latif complained about not getting needed medications sometime in early August. In frustration he reportedly threw a rock at a guard tower, and thereby brought the wrath of the armed guard force down upon him and other detainees.

As Leopold reported it:
"The guards came into Camp 5 with guns, and beat up the detainees," another prisoner recalled. "Other soldiers surrounded the camp. [The Officer in Charge] came and told detainees, 'You are extremists and I'm going to deal with you in a harsh way. You intend to kill our soldiers; we'll do the same thing to you.'"
For whatever reason, Savage did not report this aspect of the story in his article about the drug overdose. One wonders if the New York Times reporter hasn't already decided the case is simply one of suicide, a scenario investigators are reportedly pursuing. Just the other day, the Times editorial board called Latif's death a "suicide."

Savage did not note that investigators were pursuing any other leads. No one is talking, either, about what the surveillance tapes of Latif would show, or whether the evidence in them rules out one theory regarding manner of death or another.

Too Many Suspicious Deaths

The death of Latif, the first purported "suicide" who supposedly did not hang or strangle himself, is nevertheless similar to the other suicides, and none more than that of Mohammed Al Hanashi. Both had made multiple suicide attempts and been at various times on "suicide watch." Both were said to be depressed at the time of their death, although their are contrary reports regarding both that they were not suicidal at the time of their death. Both were under video surveillance. Both were supposed trouble-makers, and both had been hunger strikers.

Then there is the 2007 "suicide" of Abdul Rahman Al Amri, also found in a solitary cell in Camp 5, with his hands tied behind his back. The three "suicides" of May 2006 were also found with hands tied and rags stuffed down their throats. At least one guard witnessed stranger transfers of three prisoners to a possible black site at the Guantanamo base, known as Camp No, as reported in an award-winning 2010 article by Scott Horton at Harpers, and examined further in a special investigation by Seton Hall School of Law.

The latest revelations seriously demand the calling of a special investigation. The Department of Defense, embroiled in numerous scandals over torture, extrajudicial killings, rendition, and corruption, cannot be trusted to run an investigation into these deaths. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, who is in charge of the investigation, along with another investigation run out of Guantanamo's parent command at SOUTHCOM, has been involved over the years in interrogations of detainees and in intelligence operations. To leave the investigation to NCIS and SOUTHCOM is to leave the institutions involved to investigate themselves.

There have been many calls to shut down Guantanamo of late. A Government Accounting Office study released just today, and touted by Democratic Senator and Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Diane Feinstein, has indicated the closure of Guantanamo and transfer of prisoners to U.S. prisons is perfectly feasible. But would justice still come to those many, many prisoners already cleared for release? Or would the closure of Guantanamo spawn many more Guantanamos, or via use of indefinite detention, "Gitmo-ize" the U.S. prison system?

Maybe a real investigation into the death of Latif would help bring about a greater understanding of why Guantanamo is an abomination that must be shut down. If true, then Latif would not have died in vain, an anonymous innocent man ground down and snuffed out by a system so large and inhuman that it seemed no one could control it.

Crossposted at Firedoglake

Monday, November 26, 2012

New York Times Decides Guantanamo Detainee Committed Suicide

Crossposted from MyFDL/Firedoglake

Jason Leopold continues to do superb reporting on the mysterious death last September of Guantanamo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif. Earlier today (11/26), Leopold posted breaking news that a government autopsy report on Latif, not yet officially released, concludes that the 36-year-old prisoner died of suicide.

Leopold sourced the revelation to Yemeni government officials and "a US military investigator close to the case." The Department of Defense has not yet officially stated any cause of death for Latif, who was discovered inert in his cell at Guantanamo's Camp 5 on September 8.

Leopold wrote that a "spokesman for United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Joint Task Force-Guantanamo's (JTF-GTMO) higher command" told Truthout that DoD would "issue a statement as soon as [Yemen] accepts [Latif's] remains." Just two days after Latif's death, a Guantanamo spokesman told Associated Press, "There is no apparent cause [of death], natural or self-inflicted."

But none of this stopped the New York Times from stating in an editorial yesterday (11/25) calling for Guantanamo's closure that Latif had in fact committed suicide. Coming out of nowhere, such a statement was, frankly, bizarre.

Here's what the Times wrote, some 12 hours before Leopold even posted his story at Truthout, and with no published source anywhere definitively reporting Latif's cause of death as suicide (bold emphasis added):
In September, a member of this stranded group, a Yemeni citizen named Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, killed himself after a federal judge’s ruling ordering his release was unfairly overturned by an appellate court. It was the kind of price a nation pays when it creates prisons like Guantánamo, beyond the reach of law and decency, a tragic reminder of the stain on American justice.
Narratives R Us

There is a lot wrong about the claims in the NYT op-ed, as much as I might agree with the overall thrust of the editorial about shutting down Guantanamo. The Times editors may have thought the latest death of a prisoner at Guantanamo highlighted the crime of keeping Guantanamo open. And they are right about that, but their conclusion -- their narrative of Latif's death -- closes off inquiry into what actually occurred, and in doing that they are not acting as a watchdog upon possible government abuse.

First of all, there is no affirmative statement by the government that Latif's cause of death was suicide. In fact, as Leopold points out in his article, all the earlier statements from DoD led one to believe that suicide was not a cause of death. The only recent article to claim otherwise was by Leopold, and it was not published until many hours after the NYT made their claim.

Secondarily, not only does the New York Times supposedly know how Latif died, they also imply they know why he killed himself, i.e., he "killed himself after a federal judge’s ruling ordering his release was unfairly overturned by an appellate court."

Well, yes, he did die after the appellate court ruling -- nearly eleven months afterward, as the ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia came in October 2011. A subsequent appeal by Latif's attorneys to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected last June, also approximately three months before Latif died.

Since no one reads articles very carefully, and it is enough to spread a particular narrative in mainstream media sources to manufacture a version of Truth, the NYT does its readers a disservice by producing a bogus narrative of the death of Adnan Latif. According to the Times, Latif killed himself, and it was likely because his court case was overturned.

To be fair to the Times, there were stories in the press that speculated upon just such a scenario, as the Reprieve spokesperson in this Alternet article from last September appeared to do. In addition, the Swiss chapter of Amnesty International wrote about the Latif death on November 1, and indicated that the Guantanamo prisoner had died of suicide. ("Le suicide du détenu yéménite Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif en septembre 2012 nous rappelle la cruauté de ce régime de détention qui permet une détention illimitée et illégale.").

But statements by human rights groups are not the same as statements by the editorial board of the New York Times. One wonders what led them to assert that Latif had died from suicide, when no public source, indeed no story in their own paper had reported the same, until Truthout published Leopold's story nearly 12 hours later.

"Questions Remain"

Leopold's story is subheaded, "Questions Remain." Indeed they do.

The Truthout story draws upon eyewitness stories from a number of detainees as reported to human rights attorney David Remes. While Truthout withheld detainees' names to prevent possible retribution by Guantanamo authorities, former British resident Shaker Aamer gave permission for his name to be attached to his own statements about Latif's death.

Aamer, who is the subject of a major campaign to secure his release from the U.S. prison camp, told Remes that, among other things, Latif had been on hunger strike just before he died. He had been moved into Camp 5 only two days before he was found dead.

While readers should turn to Jason's article to read his complete story, it is worth noting the barebones of the revelations here, as it's unlikely you'll get them in the mainstream media any time soon.

According to Aamer and other detainees, Latif had gotten into an argument with guards in early August, after they failed to pass on a request from Latif about not getting his medications. Latif reportedly threw a rock at a guard tower and broke one of the spotlights.

Leopold's story explains what happened next:

The incident took place during Ramadan and resulted in dozens of soldiers being called into the rec area, some of who rolled up in Hummers, fired their weapons into the ground and threatened to kill Latif, according to several prisoners who were present.

"The guards came into Camp 5 with guns, and beat up the detainees," another prisoner recalled. "Other soldiers surrounded the camp. [The Officer in Charge] came and told detainees, 'You are extremists and I'm going to deal with you in a harsh way. You intend to kill our soldiers; we'll do the same thing to you.'"

While the New York Times pushes a narrative that links Latif's death to judicial decisions that happened many months before, I'd suggest that you don't have to be a fan of the mystery genre to know that if someone is threatened with being killed and then ends up dead in mysterious circumstances only a few weeks later, you've got something that needs investigation. But such investigation should not come from the same institution whose personnel made the death threats.

In fact, the seven alleged suicides at Guantanamo, and nine deaths overall since 2002, call out for an independent investigation. (I'd note that I also revealed evidence in a government document that there were earlier deaths of detainees at Guantanamo in early 2002. These, too, should be investigated.)

As reported in my Truthout story on two earlier Guantanamo "suicides," that of Abdul Rahman Al Amri in May 2007 and Mohammad Ahmed Abdullah Saleh Al Hanashi in June 2009, like Latif both men died in Camp 5. The circumstances of their deaths were also strange. Al Amri was discovered with his hands tied behind his back. Al Hanashi's ligature (the means whereby he supposedly strangled himself) was never provided to autopsy doctors. It took years to get the autopsy reports on these prisoners, and the NCIS investigations have never been released.

In January, 2010, Scott Horton published a lengthy exposé at Harpers that seriously questioned the government's narrative about the deaths of three detainees on June 9, 2006. Like Al Amri, these detainees were also found with their hands tied behind their backs. They had cloth rags stuck down their throats in what UC Davis researcher Almerindo Ojeda has speculated could have been a form of "dryboarding." Yet the government still claims these deaths were suicide, and much of the mainstream media has defended the government's position.

The New York Times should be calling for an independent investigation into the death of Adnan Latif and the other supposed Guantanamo "suicides," and not constructing a dubious, unsourced narrative that discourages further inquiry.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Survivors File UN Complaint Against Canada for Failing to Prosecute George W. Bush for Torture

The following was posted today at Center for Constitutional Rights, and reposted here for its inherent interest, and with gratitude to Center for Constitutional Rights and the Canadian Centre for International Justice, and the four men pursuing their complaint, for continuing to stand for justice and accountability for state crimes.
November 14, 2012, Vancouver and New York— Today, four torture survivors filed a complaint against Canada with the United Nations Committee against Torture for the country’s failure to investigate and prosecute former President George W. Bush during his visit to British Columbia last year. As a signatory to the Convention against Torture, Canada has an obligation to investigate and prosecute a torture suspect on its soil. This is the first time a complaint concerning torture allegations against a high-level U.S. official has been filed with the U.N. Committee. The Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) and the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed the complaint on the men’s behalf.

“Canada has the jurisdiction and the obligation to prosecute a torture suspect present in Canada, including a former head of state, and even one from a powerful country,” said Matt Eisenbrandt, CCIJ’s Legal Director. “Canada’s failure to conduct a criminal investigation and prosecution against Mr. Bush when there was overwhelming evidence against him constitutes a clear violation of its international obligations and its own policy not to be a safe haven for torturers.”

The four men – Hassan bin Attash, Sami el-Hajj, Muhammed Khan Tumani and Murat Kurnaz – found their long quest for justice stymied in October 2011. Canada’s Attorney General refused to conduct a criminal investigation against Mr. Bush, and the Attorney General of British Columbia swiftly intervened to shut down a private criminal prosecution submitted to a provincial court in her jurisdiction during Mr. Bush’s visit. This occurred despite the groups’ submission of a 69-page draft indictment and approximately 4000 pages of evidence against Bush consisting of extensive reports and investigations conducted by multiple U.S. agencies and the United Nations.

The Committee against Torture can require Canada to explain the actions that led to the case being closed without any investigation and can then issue a decision on whether Canada has breached its obligations under the convention. If the committee finds Canada in violation, it can specify appropriate remedial measures.

“Through this process, the world can learn whether Canada’s actions were grounded in law or in politics. Canada’s refusal to investigate and prosecute George W. Bush marked a low-point in the ongoing struggle to end impunity for torturers and denied these men the opportunity to achieve some measure of justice,” said Katherine Gallagher, Senior Staff Attorney at CCR and legal representative for the men.“They now call upon the Committee to send a clear message that states must uphold their obligations under the Convention against Torture and cannot allow other factors – including political considerations – to interfere with the commitment to end impunity for torturers.”

Ratified by 153 countries around the world, the U.N. Convention Against Torture requires states to investigate alleged torturers present on their soil and submit them for prosecution—or extradite them to another country for prosecution. Canada implemented this provision of the Convention into its domestic criminal code and explicitly authorizes prosecution for torture occurring outside Canadian borders. Canada, along with 55 other countries, allows individuals to file petitions with the U.N. Committee for alleged breaches of the Convention; the United States has not signed on to this provision.

In both Afghanistan and Guantánamo, the four men who submitted the complaint survived inhumane treatment including beatings, being hung from walls or ceilings, sleep, food and water deprivation, and exposure to extreme temperatures. U.S. officials eventually released Kurnaz after five years, and both el-Hajj, a reporter with Al-Jazeera, and Khan Tumani, 17 at the time of his detention, after approximately seven years, without ever bringing charges against them. Bin Attash, only 16 when he was detained, remains at Guantánamo, though he has never been formally charged with any wrongdoing.

Earlier this year, CCIJ and CCR submitted a report about the Bush torture case to the Committee against Torture during an examination of Canada’s compliance with the Convention. The Committee, in its concluding observations, called on the Canadian government to “take all necessary measures with a view to ensuring the exercise of the universal jurisdiction over persons responsible for acts of torture, including foreign perpetrators who are temporarily present in Canada.”

In February 2011, the Center for Constitutional Rights, on behalf of two survivors and supported by CCIJ and other human rights organizations, attempted to initiate criminal proceedings against Bush ahead of a scheduled visit to Switzerland. Bush cancelled the trip after news of the prosecution, and the apparent unwillingness of Swiss authorities to stop it, became known.

Read the complaint at CCR’s case page.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Where's the "Pathway" for Closure of Guantanamo?

Last Friday, November 9, Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First (HRF), hosted a press call with retired Rear Admiral Don Guter. HRF, along with a number of other human rights and legal groups, are calling upon President Barack Obama to fulfill his January 2009 pledge to close Guantanamo's detention facility.

Admiral Guter was the Navy's Judge Advocate General in 2000-2002. Last January, along with 14 other high-ranking former officers, Guter signed an open letter to President Obama calling for the immediate closure of Guantanamo.

The retired military officers were willing to put the blame on Obama's failure to keep his promise on a recalcitrant Congress.

"We recognize the political opposition you have faced in attempting to honor your commitment," Guter and the others wrote. "Congress has repeatedly restricted your ability to transfer detainees held there who have been cleared for release. Congress has also restricted your authority to bring criminal suspects held at Guantanamo to justice in our time-honored federal criminal courts. However, despite these restrictions, we are asking you to act within the discretion available to you to move our nation forward in closing Guantanamo once and for all."

But according to a question I posed to Guter last Friday, neither Obama nor anyone in his administration even bothered to reply to the 15 former "high-ranking former officers," which included General Joseph Hoar (USMC, ret.), former Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command, and Major General Antonio Taguba, who headed the Army's investigation into the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

But this didn't deter Admiral Guter, who maintains that Guantanamo is "still the symbol of the torture and the other horrific acts that took place down there, and still a symbol of delayed justice which we’re still experiencing." He added that Guantanamo's ongoing detention program has become a "recruiting tool" for U.S. enemies abroad. [Quote updated on 11/14 from an earlier version of this article, thanks to a transcript of the press call provided by HRF]

A Pathway?

Both Guter and Massimino maintained that there was a "pathway" for the closure of Guantanamo and the release of the 86 cleared detainees. But they would not be more specific about what it would be. Massimino indicated that a "policy blueprint" on the topic would be released during an HRF summit in the the first week of December.

I asked whether such a "pathway" would include the use of recent changes in the NDAA guidelines that would allow the Secretary of Defense to issue waivers that would guarantee the necessary security assurances for release. (For those who want Shaker Aamer released, for instance, such an action, long desired, is only a Leon Panetta signature away.)

It seemed that HRF's "pathway" would include such "flexibility in the waiver process", but more specifics were frustratingly withheld, no doubt awaiting the full roll-out of the programmatic call next month. However, Massimino did indicate that HRF will ask Obama to "task someone" to work specifically on the Guantanamo issue.

Despite the perspicacity of HRF and Admiral Guter in sticking with the Guantanamo issue, the reliance on faith in President Obama appears to be misplaced. Not only has he ignored those who have implored him on the issue in the past two years (including Admiral Guter himself), but his administration continues to do what it can to go after whistleblowers on torture (like John Kiriakou), who file suit against administration officials for torture (the latest defeat was in the Vance-Ertel suit against Rumsfeld), and press the Bush-era military commissions invention, only slightly modified from that of the previous administration.

No Accountability for Torture

The list of those who have escaped accountability for torture is getting to be a very long one, as attorney Jesselyn Radack wrote in an article recently about the Kiriakou guilty plea, noting the cover-ups have  spanned two administrations. (I'd note that her list mostly comes from the CIA and DoJ, but there are plenty of DoD operatives who could have been mentioned, too.)
Jose Rodriguez, Enrique "Ricky" Prado, Deuce Martinez, Alfreda Bikowsky, all of the lawyers who said it was legal, including my law school contemporary John Yoo (enjoying his tenured professorship) and now-federal judge Jay Bybee, twisted psychiatrists, including criminal contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, not to mention all of the names we still don't know of the anonymous masked brutes who kidnapped, rendered, beat, waterboarded, and deprived prisoners of the basic human dignities mandated by the Geneva Conventions.
Nor is it clear that a closure of Guantanamo -- should it indeed come -- wouldn't be primarily to cover-up on-going U.S. interrogation and detention crimes at Bagram, or other U.S. black sites from Somalia and Libya to Afghanistan. Indeed, Moon of Alabama has tied the current David Petraeus scandal and resignation to revelations about a CIA detention site in Benghazi, Libya.

But the clearest sign of political weakness on the torture issue lies in the relative disinterest in the topic by the vast majority of the press. During the press call with HRF, mine was the only question by the press. I can't know how many were present during the press call, but I wouldn't be shocked if the turnout was very low.

So, I don't have much faith in the Obama administration doing the right thing. But maybe HRF, Guter, and others will be successful in the long run. Unfortunately, I believe it will take a massive social struggle to change the torture policy of the U.S., as it has long been linked to a military and political policy of support for dictatorial regimes abroad, to such a degree that the problem has become systemic.

The U.S. cannot give up its torture habit, one that goes back decades now, way before Bush and Obama, even if Guter and his co-thinkers believe they can make U.S. military practice more ethical. I wish them luck, but I just don't have the requisite faith they have.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Anti-Torture Psychologists Respond to Attack from APA Division Chief

The battle within the American Psychological Association (APA) to bring that organization into line with other human rights groups and attorney organizations in opposing the use of psychological personnel in national security interrogations accelerated last month when a prominent APA official came out strongly against a petition to annul APA's ethics policy on national security and interrogations.

In June 2005, the APA published their report on Psychological Ethics and National Security (the PENS report). APA, stung by criticism that psychologists had been involved in torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere, nevertheless stacked the panel hastily assembled that Spring with over fifty percent military and/or military connected members.

These were not just any military individuals, but included the former Chief of Psychology at Guantanamo, a SERE psychologist who supported use of SERE techniques in interrogations, and a Special Forces top psychologist who, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee, had actually trained interrogators in use of SERE torture techniques in interrogations.

Reposted below is a letter from the Coalition for Ethical Psychology (CEP), responding to an October 26  letter from the President of the American Psychological Association's Division 42, Psychologists in Independent Practice, who had written a reply to CEP's request for support for their call for annulment of the APA's PENS report.

The original petition to annul the PENS report was posted at CEP's website in October 2011. The petition called PENS "the defining document endorsing psychologists’ engagement in detainee interrogations."

The petition continued: "Despite evidence that psychologists were involved in abusive interrogations, the PENS Task Force concluded that psychologists play a critical role in keeping interrogations 'safe, legal, ethical and effective.' With this stance, the APA, the largest association of psychologists worldwide, became the sole major professional healthcare organization to support practices contrary to the international human rights standards that ought to be the benchmark against which professional codes of ethics are judged."

The political heat around the anti-PENS petition increased noticeably when CEP came out publicly against a so-called “member-initiated task force” to “reconcile policies related to psychologists’ involvement in national security settings.” This task force, actually established with APA Board and staff support, was opposed to the annulment petition, and likely was formed to blunt the impact of CEP's call for annulment, which was gaining much support. One of the prominent members of this new "task force" is William Strickland, the president and CEO of the long-time military contractor-research group, Human Resource Research Organization (HumRRO),

A number of APA divisions have signed onto CEP's petition, including Div. 6 (Behavioral Neuroscience & Comparative Psychology), Div. 27 (Society for Community Research and Action), Div. 39 (Psychoanalysis), and others. The CEP petition also gained the support of the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Physicians for Human Rights, and other organizations, as well as prominent individuals, including past APA President Philip Zimbardo, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, and Nobel Prize winning geneticist Richard Lewontin, among many others.

"Harming our practice of psychology"

The Div. 42 letter was written by Jeffrey Younggren, a psychologist who has long presented himself or been recognized as an expert in psychological ethics, and who has a long-time association with military psychology, including a posting as Colonel in the United States Army Reserve to the Office of the Surgeon General, 1999 – 2002, and four medals for service to the Department of Defense.

Readers interested in Dr. Younggren and the Division 42 board's point of view on PENS are encouraged to read their letter.

Quoted directly below is a portion of Younggren's letter, wherein he describes the response of Div. 42's Board to CEP's original request to them for support of PENS annulment. Dr. Younggren concludes Div. 42 "will not introduce or sign onto any resolution about recalling or annulling the PENS report," but his discussion goes farther than a mere statement of position on annulment.  He lambasted CEP itself (bold emphases are added for emphasis):
We request that your Coalition stop using the press to spread all negative information about its dissatisfaction with APA. You are harming our practice of psychology by giving false and biased information and therefore, impacting negatively on the ability of people who need psychological services to receive them from ethical and competent psychologists in independent practice....

[The PENS report] was properly vetted at the APA COR [Council of Representatives] meeting that voted to accept it. It is not APA policy. Rather COR merely accepted the information that may or may not be used in formulation of formal APA policies. Annulment [of PENS] would disenfranchise the COR members who voted to accept the report in 2005 and further would be disrespectful to the work done by members whose contribution may have helped the report be more honest than if only members who agreed with the Coalition's were represented on it....

By distributing copies of this letter, we will ask APA to maintain a vigorous response to any further complaints publicized by the Coalition in the media that may damage our members' independent practice of psychology. We believe that only by giving a partial story to the media, the Coalition is damaging the entire field of psychology.
PENS, Younggren, and APA's Council of Representatives

Describing anti-torture psychologists as providing "false and biased information" and "harming our practice of psychology" -- even unto "impacting negatively" the ability of individuals to receive psychological services -- Younggren and the Division 42 board make serious charges. I do not believe they can back them up.

Younggren does not indicate what he or his board consider "false or biased information," leaving one with only ad hominem assertions. (CEP also makes this point in their response to Younggren.) He also does not provide any empirical data for his assertion that people are unable to receive psychological services from clinicians in independent practice because of CEP's statements or policies.

On the contrary, it was APA's own Board of Directors who, in a June 2009 letter to its membership, admitted the participation of some psychologists in torture. Regarding the impact of such behavior on the field of psychology, the Board wrote, "The involvement of psychologists, no matter how small the number, in the torture of detainees is reprehensible and casts a shadow over our entire profession."

Younggren's position that anti-torture psychologists are "damaging the entire field of psychology" is bizarre hyperbole, and appears aimed at vilifying an entire group of professionals. Nowhere in Younggren's letter is there any indication that APA members engaged in unethical behavior when they participated in interrogations that even Guantanamo authorities labelled as "torture," i.e. John Leso's participation in the interrogation of Mohammed Al Qahtani, nor how that might have damaged the field.

Nor is there any mention of the role that psychologists played in the construction of the "enhanced interrogation techniques," i.e., the SERE-derived torture program during the George W. Bush administration, as reported by both the mainstream media and in Congressional investigations.

Moreover, Younggren appears to be confused about how PENS was integrated into APA policy. At first he claims APA's COR "voted to accept" the report. Then he says "it is not APA policy." But demonstrating either confusion or a return to a mistaken narrative, he follows this statement with the assertion, "Annulment [of PENS] would disenfranchise the COR members who voted to accept the report in 2005...."

But APA's COR never voted on PENS! Even so, APA officials first tried to present their ethics and national security report as something that went through normal organizational channels. Yet this story wasn't true, and ultimately APA had to admit that.

Here is what Mark Benjamin reported on the subject at in Aug. 2006 (bold emphasis added):
In its original six-point response to Salon, the APA took exception to the use of the words “internal revolt” to describe the push against the association’s interrogation principles. It suggested the [PENS] policy had been formally embraced by the elected members of the APA’s council, who have broad authority to develop APA policy. “The reality is that APA’s Council of Representatives endorsed the current policy at its last meeting,” the association leadership said in the response.

That raised some eyebrows among some members, who pointed out the claim was incorrect. In a relatively unusual move, they said, the interrogation report bypassed the council (described on the APA Web site as the “most important governance body of the association”) and became policy through the imprimatur of APA’s smaller 12-person board of directors. “Council was not asked to endorse or approve the PENS task force report,” said council member Bernice Lott.

Farberman, the APA spokeswoman, acknowledged that the original APA statement on the council’s endorsement was technically incorrect. She said that members of the council had made “laudatory” statements about the report at a council meeting last February. When called on this issue last week by her own members, Farberman admitted to the council in an e-mail, obtained by Salon, that “Council took no official action on the report.”
Younggren's confusion does not stop with the issue of PENS and COR. At one point in his letter, he declares that APA has "clear policies enumerating exactly what is meant by torture, so that there can be no confusion or loopholes should a psychologist be asked to participate in such unethical behavior."

Yet towards the close of the letter, Younggren suggests that more study on the issue is needed. He writes, "We see a need for defining where the line crosses from interview to gain necessary information  to assess and create treatment plans to being a part of torture. We have asked our forensic committee to begin discussing the issue."

But what is the need for discussion if APA's policies are so clear? And what exactly is Younggren getting at by conflating psychological interview for the purposes of treatment planning and psychological interview to facilitate torture? Frankly, either Dr. Younggren or Division 42's Board (or both) appear to be confused about the entire issue here. Such confusion does not bode well for those who would advocate that psychologists act as safety monitors in interrogation settings.

Psychologists and the National Security State

The Younggren letter amounts to a polemical declaration of war against APA's opponents on interrogation policy. At the bottom of all this acrimony is a battle for the soul of the psychology profession, especially as it relates to services to the national security state.

Younggren maintains, "There is a role for psychologists to play in counterintelligence and counterterrorism provided it is done responsibly." But psychologists have no special training or unique skills to provide to interrogation functions that generations of police and military interrogators haven't already developed.

Instead, the presence of doctors and psychologists in interrogation settings has only served to legitimize inhumane practices, such as indefinite detention, isolation, and other coercive interrogation techniques. Despite assurances by the Obama administration to the contrary, abusive interrogations amounting to torture, or at least cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment continues under provisions of the current Army Field Manual, which includes provisions for manipulation of fears, sleep deprivation, use of isolation, sensory deprivation, and use of drugs, among other dubious or harmful procedures on prisoners and detainees, while "behavioral consultants" are still used to monitor and otherwise consult to interrogators on the use of such abusive techniques.

APA has deliberately played an adjunct role to the Pentagon and CIA in the "war on terror." As an example, even to the present day the APA has refused to call for the closure of Guantanamo Bay's prison.

CEP Responds to Div. 42 President's Letter

What follows is CEP's own response to Younggren's letter, reposted here to assist the public in understanding the basic issues involved in this discussion:
October 31, 2012

Dear Dr. Younggren and Members of the APA Division 42 Board:

Thank you for your recent letter in which you share your views with the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and with leaders of the American Psychological Association. We are hopeful that your criticisms of the Coalition's efforts to encourage accountability and reform within the APA will be an important step toward a long overdue, broad-based, transparent, and urgently needed discussion of psychological ethics in national security settings.

These ethics-based deliberations have not taken place within the APA, largely because the 2005 Presidential Task Force Report on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS Report) – produced after a single weekend meeting – rubber-stamped the Bush Administration’s claim that psychologists serve to keep detention and interrogation operations safe, legal, ethical, and effective. We therefore regret your position to “vehemently oppose” annulment of the PENS Report, and we hope that in reaching this stance the Board was not unduly influenced by those members of your division who, as you note in your letter, were directly involved in the PENS process.

At the same time, we are concerned that your letter misrepresents our work and our purpose. You emphasize that the APA does not condone “psychologist’s use of behavior defined as torture.” But the Coalition’s critique of APA leadership with regard to policies related to national security operations goes far beyond matters of “torture.” That a psychologist should not engage in torture is obvious; to highlight this precept alone is to present an exceedingly low bar for our profession. Professional ethics in psychology – based as it is on broad “do no harm” principles – expects much more of us. In violation of these standards, post-9/11 “war on terror” health professionals were given responsibility for overseeing and directing detention conditions and interrogation practices that were coercive, often abusive, and sometimes even torturous.

While recognizing and acknowledging the good work and dedication to public safety that characterizes so many of our colleagues in military and national security positions, the Coalition believes that greater awareness, engagement, and guidance are urgently needed in order to prevent ethically fraught aspects of national security psychology from undermining our profession’s most noble aspirations. In the long run, the public’s respect for psychology depends upon preserving our profession’s commitment to improving the lives of others and refraining from harmful actions. We believe that it does not serve psychology or psychologists for our profession to stand alone among the health professions in permitting our licensed professionals to join in abusive or coercive practices.

That is why, over the past year, a centerpiece of the Coalition’s efforts has been our Call for Annulment of the PENS Report. Annulment of the Report is essential, both as a matter of accountability and in order to provide the foundation for a fresh and uncompromised examination of the ethics underlying psychologist involvement in national security operations. Our annulment initiative has received substantial and wide-ranging support from highly respected organizations and individuals. Thirty-three groups have endorsed our online petition, including Physicians for Human Rights, the ACLU, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, and the executive committees of eight APA divisions. The petition has also been signed by over 2,000 individuals, including current and former APA division presidents and former members of the APA Ethics Committee; non-psychologists such as psychiatrists Robert Jay Lifton and Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis (ret.) and bioethicist Steven Miles; scholar-activists such as Daniel Ellsberg; attorneys who have represented Guantanamo detainees; military and intelligence veterans; and many psychologists and human rights advocates (signers are listed at Given the diversity of your own membership within Division 42, it is very likely that some of your own members – perhaps many of them – also support annulment of the PENS Report.

We understand that, for a variety of reasons, not everyone will agree with our position regarding the importance of annulling the PENS Report. But we hope that no one will disagree about the value of presenting the issues accurately. It is therefore a matter of concern to us that your letter overlooks or minimizes key considerations and evidence that have been presented in support of PENS annulment. In this regard, please consider the bullet points below (further documentation is available on the Coalition website).

• APA leadership has had a long and problematic relationship with sectors of the national security establishment involved in detainee torture and abuse. For example, in 2003 the APA conducted a joint conference with the CIA and the Rand Corporation on the “Science of Deception.” This conference was attended by psychologists who designed and implemented the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” torture program. Conference funding was arranged by the CIA psychologist who was instrumental in implementing this torture program. The conference report and journalist accounts also indicate that “enhanced interrogation” techniques were on the conference agenda.

• In 2002, soon after 9/11, the APA implemented a revised ethics code. Changes were made in the code that permitted psychologists, for the first time, to override ethical standards when they conflicted with “law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.” These changes, incorporated into the PENS Report, served to immunize psychologists from potential ethical accountability for detention, interrogation, and other activities that previously would have been considered unethical. APA leadership resisted numerous calls over the next eight years – from Council and others – to correct deficiencies in the code.

• As early as 2004, reliable reports circulated that psychologists – including APA members – acted as planners, consultants, researchers, and overseers of abusive and sometimes torturous interrogations at Guantánamo Bay Detention Center, Bagram Air Base, and CIA “black sites.” The PENS Task Force refused to evaluate the adequacy of APA’s response to these specific public reports.

• Six of the nine voting members of the PENS Task Force were on the payroll of U.S. military or intelligence agencies – presenting clear conflicts of interest – and several of them were drawn from the very chains of command accused of prisoner abuses. In consequence, the Task Force: (a) presumed, rather than deliberated, the legitimacy of psychologists as interrogation consultants; (b) tied the PENS Report to the permissive definition of torture in U.S. law rather than to international human rights law, even though the APA is an accredited NGO to the United Nations; (c) incorporated language from military behavioral science consultation protocols directly into PENS policy; and (d) voted to require confidentiality of Task Force proceedings.

• Undisclosed high-level APA representatives who attended the PENS Task Force meeting engaged in lobbying for Department of Defense and CIA funding and had a vested interest in a PENS Report compatible with then-current administration policy. A significant conflict of interest existed for the director of the APA Practice Directorate, who steered the Task Force meeting toward supporting the role of psychologists as interrogation consultants while emphasizing the need to put out the fires of public controversy surrounding such psychologist involvement. Furthermore, this director did not disclose to the non-military members of the Task Force that his wife was an active duty SERE-trained psychologist, who had served at Guantanamo. Along with two Task Force members, she also worked with the Army Surgeon General to revise instructions for psychologists participating in national security detention and interrogation activities based on the PENS Report.

• The PENS Task Force presumed, without deliberation, that the current APA Ethics Code adequately addressed complex ethical issues associated with psychologist involvement in national security operations, that no new ethical standards were needed, and that national security concerns justified subordinating individual welfare to government interests. The Task Force declined to consider the challenges in adapting the Ethics Code to operational psychologists working under military authority and military exigencies, including the difficulty or impossibility of ethical oversight or of obtaining independent ethics consultation in classified settings.

• The PENS process and Report departed from standard APA procedures in numerous ways for which adequate explanation has never been provided: the Ethics Office director produced a full draft report immediately at the close of the weekend meeting and Task Force members were given only 24 hours to accept or reject the report; the APA Board invoked its emergency powers to endorse the PENS Report, preempting a standard review and vote by the Council of Representatives; the identities of the PENS Task Force members were not included in the Report, were not posted on the APA website, and were withheld from members of the APA and members of the press requesting them; the Task Force chair designated two APA staff members as the sole spokespersons for the Task Force; and, by majority vote, Task Force members agreed not to speak about the PENS process or PENS Report with others.

Despite these and other serious grounds for concern, the PENS Report has been widely used to promote and expand operational roles for psychologists in national security settings, and the document continues to be used in this capacity. The Report is cited in current DoD policy memos to support psychologists’ involvement in detention, interrogation, and debriefing operations, including in the assessment and exploitation of individual detainee “vulnerabilities” for intelligence purposes. The Report is also being used to legitimize “operational psychology” in counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and anti-terrorism operations – which sometimes involve psychological interventions that directly harm those identified as potential adversaries – as an official APA area of specialization. And the PENS Report is repeatedly cited as a resource for ethical decision-making in the APA Ethics Committee’s recent – and widely criticized – draft “casebook” on National Security Commentary.

In sum, the PENS Report has facilitated harm to vulnerable populations by supporting policies that lack adequate protection against abusive treatment; has badly damaged the reputation of U.S. psychology both domestically and internationally; has diminished the APA’s commitment to advance psychology “as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare;” has compromised the integrity of the relationship between professional psychology and the security sector; and, as emphasized by some senior interrogators and intelligence professionals, has undermined national security.

In our work over the past several years, we have closely collaborated with and benefited from the guidance of military interrogators, counterintelligence professionals, military attorneys (JAGs) and ethicists, and military health professionals. The preponderance of psychologists whose work supports the U.S. military and other defense-related agencies – including the many clinical psychologists providing valuable services to soldiers and veterans in VA hospitals and other medical facilities – are not engaged in ethically fraught areas of operational psychology typified by behavioral science consultations to interrogations and conditions of detention. Our efforts are, in part, an attempt to protect psychologists in the military and in national security who strive to practice in accordance with psychological ethics and international law and are asked or ordered to be purveyors of harm. To the extent that these psychologists can point to clear guidance from the APA and state licensing boards, they are better positioned to refuse such orders.

As a final consideration, we have already heard from several colleagues who are concerned by what they perceive as your letter’s threatening and intimidating tone. We are disinclined to focus on that aspect of your correspondence because we believe there is much good that can come from greater engagement over the ethical issues at hand for the profession we share, especially among groups and individuals with differing perspectives. Toward that end, the Coalition will continue its efforts to bring wider recognition among fellow psychologists, national leaders, and the general public to the urgent need to examine psychological ethics in national security settings. We would like to respond to your claim that we are harming your “practice of psychology by giving false and biased information,” but your letter does not provide any specific examples of inaccuracies in any official Coalition statements or related communications. We welcome your bringing such instances to our attention, and we will try to respond with documentation and clarification in a timely manner.

We especially welcome what might appear to be your admonishment to us: “Please understand that your behavior needs to be honest and demonstrate what you state are your core values.” As a Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, our core values are indeed honesty, transparency, and ethical practice, and we hope that we share these values with the members of your division. Thus, our priority has been for the APA to acknowledge grave breaches of ethical principles, to hold those responsible for those breaches accountable, and to change misguided policies and institutional processes so that our profession is protected from similar harmful and discrediting actions in the future.

APA leadership has supported psychologists' participation in what were known to be abusive and coercive detention and interrogation practices; certain APA members have been directly implicated in these abuses in public documents, including congressional testimony and military investigations; and the APA Board put its ethics policy for national security settings in the hands of psychologists who were part of the very commands accused of detainee mistreatment. The Coalition believes these are very serious matters, and we hope you agree. We flatly disagree with any suggestion that the threat to the APA comes from publicizing these concerns and not from the unethical activities themselves.

Again, we extend our thanks to you for bringing greater attention to the call for annulment of the PENS Report. We welcome the opportunity to continue and to extend this important discussion. Please share this response to your letter with the full membership of Division 42.


Roy Eidelson
Stephen Soldz
Steven Reisner
Brad Olson
Trudy Bond
Jean Maria Arrigo

Cc: APA Board of Directors
APA Council of Representatives
APA Division Leadership
[Full disclosure: the author of this article resigned from APA in January 2008. I am not currently, a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, some of whose leading members have been active in Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, though I have been a member in the past. I have never been a member of CEP, but have openly supported their positions, including PENS annulment. I also once took a Continuing Education class on Ethics from Dr. Younggren.

I'd note that Dr. Younggren, though not writing for publication, failed to notify the recipients of his letter that a prominent member of Div. 42's Board, Treasurer Gerald Koocher (who in 2005 was APA President-elect), served as official liaison from APA to the PENS panel, itself made up of an overwhelming majority of military-linked psychologists. Younggren also did not mention his own long-time military connections, which might have biased his position.]

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Dirge


by John Webster

ALL for the robin-redbreast and the wren,
Since o'er shady groves they hover,
And with leaves and flowers do cover
The friendless bodies of unburied men.
Call unto his funeral dole
The ant, the field-mouse, and the mole,
To rear him hillocks that shall keep him warm,
And (when gay tombs are robbed) sustain no harm;
But keep the wolf far thence, that's foe to men,
For with his nails he'll dig them up again.

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