[Marxism] Shades of Mengele

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jul 26 07:41:13 MDT 2006

Psychological warfare
Angered that their professional organization has adopted a policy condoning 
psychologists' participation in "war on terror" interrogations, many 
psychologists are vowing to stage a battle royal at the APA's annual meeting.

By Mark Benjamin

Jul. 26, 2006 | The 150,000-member American Psychological Association is 
facing an internal revolt over its year-old policy that condones the 
participation of psychologists in the interrogations of prisoners during 
the Bush administration's "war on terror."

Last summer, the APA adopted new ethical principles drafted by a task force 
of 10 psychologists, who were selected by the organization's leadership. 
That controversial task-force report, which is now official APA policy, 
stated that psychologists participating in terror-related interrogations 
are fulfilling "a valuable and ethical role to assist in protecting our 
nation, other nations, and innocent civilians from harm."

But Salon has learned that six of the 10 psychologists on the task force 
have close ties to the military. The names and backgrounds of the task 
force participants were not made public by the APA; Salon obtained them 
from congressional sources. Four of the psychologists who crafted the 
permissive policy were involved with the handling of detainees at 
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, or served with the 
military in Afghanistan -- all environments where serious cases of abuse 
have been documented.

APA president Gerald Koocher, who handpicked the task-force members along 
with the organization's former president Ronald Levant, said in an 
interview that the psychologists' military and national-security 
backgrounds did not raise conflict of interest or broader questions about 
the task force and its report. He defended choosing psychologists with such 
backgrounds, saying "they had special knowledge to contribute."

The 10-member task force enunciated the new principles for interrogations 
in a June 2005 report. The 11 pages of ethical obligations include 12 
statements on interrogations, including one directing psychologists to 
report abuse and remember that suspects may be innocent. But detractors say 
its ban on "torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" is pro 
forma, an insufficient safeguard in the post-9/11 atmosphere.

Critics of the APA's interrogation policy are planning an all-out assault 
during the organization's annual meeting Aug. 10-13 in New Orleans, using 
tactics that include taking out a full-page advertisement in the local 

Opponents argue that when psychologists use their technical training to 
help break down the resistance of a prisoner, they are performing in a role 
diametrically at odds with their professional mission to serve as a healer. 
"I do not believe that psychologists should be involved in interrogations 
which are intrinsically coercive and inherently harmful to the person being 
interrogated," said Steven Reisner, a psychologist and senior faculty 
member at Columbia University's International Trauma Studies Program.

Joining in this chorus of dissent, former APA president Philip Zimbardo 
said psychologists used "the wrong model" to come up with the interrogation 
ethics principles. As the architect of a famous 1971 Stanford prison 
experiment in which students who were instructed to pretend they were 
guards in a mock prison quickly began to exhibit sadistic behavior, 
Zimbardo has more than a passing familiarity with the dynamics of cruelty. 
He warned against "abandoning the high moral ground in unquestioned support 
for ideological banners of 'national security.'"

Reisner said in an interview that the revelations of the close ties between 
the Department of Defense and a majority of psychologists on the task force 
would help galvanize opposition to the policy. The biographies of the task 
force members underscore these extensive and questionable connections.

Task force member Col. Larry James was the chief psychologist for the 
intelligence group at Guantánamo in 2003. In 2004, James was at Abu Ghraib 
working as the director of the behavioral sciences group in the 
interrogation unit there. His biography said he was sent to Abu Ghraib "in 
response" to the abuse scandal. Requests to interview James were rebuffed; 
U.S. Army Medical Command spokeswoman Cynthia Vaughn referred Salon back to 
the APA.

Col. Morgan Banks spent four months during the winter of 2001 and 2002 
"supporting combat operations" at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where 
serious abuses have been reported. Banks told Jane Mayer of the New Yorker 
last summer he had also "consulted generally" on Guantánamo interrogations, 
but could not recall any specific cases. Banks' biography lists him as one 
of the founders and the senior psychologist at the Army's secretive 
Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program at Fort Bragg, 
N.C., where the military trains elite soldiers to resist torture in case of 
capture. The techniques used to harden those soldiers against torture -- 
sleep deprivation, isolation, sexual humiliation, bags on the head, long 
exercise -- have been used on detainees in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Abu 
Ghraib. (Salon reported last month on a military document showing that SERE 
instructors taught their techniques to interrogators at Guantánamo.)

APA task force member Capt. Bryce Lefever was assigned to the Navy's SERE 
school in the early 1990s and deployed with Special Forces to Afghanistan 
in 2002, "where he lectured to interrogators and was consulted on various 
interrogation techniques," according to his bio.

Two other members of the task force worked for the Department of Defense 
Counterintelligence Field Activity, which coordinates Pentagon security 
efforts. One of them, R. Scott Shumate, was in charge of a team of 
psychologists who "engaged in risk assessments of the Guantanamo Bay 
detainees." Another psychologist on the APA task force worked for the Navy.

Requests to interview the APA task force members who had military ties were 
unsuccessful, even though Salon approached them through both the APA and, 
in most cases, the military.

Zimbardo, the former APA president, warned that the task force members' 
independence could be curtailed by their ties to the Pentagon. "There 
likely would be implicit pressures on them to keep the scope of their 
recommendations restricted," Zimbardo said.

Some psychologists go so far as to wonder if the APA has allowed its 
interrogation policy to be set by the military. "The military seemed to be 
very well represented on that committee," Reisner said. "This issue, which 
is never spoken about, is the relationship between the American 
Psychological Association and the military. This has been in the back of my 
mind throughout this whole debate."

That relationship appeared to be codified last month, when the Pentagon 
effectively embraced the psychologists' interrogation guidelines. In May, 
the American Psychiatric Association reacted to the detainee-abuse scandal 
by barring psychiatrists' participation in interrogations. A month later, 
in June, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William 
Winkenwerder Jr. unveiled a new policy clarifying the role of medical 
professionals in interrogations. It laid out a preference for psychologists 
(rather than psychiatrists) to advise on interrogations. That 10-page 
document also set other guidelines for military medical professionals who 
deal with detainees, such as establishing a barrier between acting as 
caregivers and those who advise interrogators.

Speaking to reporters last month, Winkenwerder said that, when the system 
works correctly, psychologists assess "the character, personality, social 
interactions and other behavioral characteristics of detainees." The 
psychologists, he explained, do not conduct the interrogations themselves, 
but instead "coach and counsel the interrogator in a way that allows him or 
her to build a relationship with the detainee."

Dr. Steven Miles, the author of "Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity 
and the War on Terror," said that the use of psychologists in these 
interrogations flowed from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's orders to 
get tough with prisoners. "They devised interrogation plans to exploit the 
physical and emotional vulnerabilities of the prisoners," Miles said in a 
telephone interview. "They turned to psychologists because they wanted to 
find every way of breaking people down."

APA president Koocher, the editor of the journal Ethics and Behavior and a 
former associate professor at Harvard Medical School, said it was unfair to 
link task force members to abuses at Guantánamo or elsewhere, just because 
they worked there. "The conceptual leap required to conclude that the 
particular person on our task force was involved is unreasonable," Koocher 

The task force was empaneled last summer as news reports were piecing 
together a disturbing portrait of medical professionals stationed at 
Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq -- rifling through medical files for 
interrogation tips, withholding medical treatment from detainees, omitting 
evidence of abuse from records, or just remaining silent about what went on 
around them. "Physicians have a checkered past on this," said Dr. Allen 
Keller, director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. "Who 
knows better how to inflict pain and suffering, physically and 
psychologically, than somebody who has studied the human body?"

In response to the scandals, some medical organizations have raced to 
develop new ethical standards that would bar anyone from using their 
professional training to assist in breaking down prisoners. Typical was the 
unequivocal new policy of the American Psychiatric Association, adopted in 
May, that forbids participation in interrogations.

"I think it is wrong to use one's professional knowledge in the service of 
breakdown -- breaking people down," author and psychiatrist Robert Jay 
Lifton said in a phone call from his home at Cape Cod, Mass. He called the 
psychological association's willingness to participate in interrogations 
"wrong." Lifton added, "Even though they do not take the Hippocratic oath, 
they are in the healing profession."

In defense of his association's position, Koocher pointed out that many 
psychologists are behavioral scientists, and as such aren't caregivers. The 
APA president cited examples such as psychologists who evaluate people's 
competence to stand trial or who train hostage negotiators.

To underscore the difference between caregiver and interrogation 
consultant, the APA's ethics principles bar the same person from performing 
both functions, stating that psychologists should "refrain from engaging in 
such multiple relationships."

APA director of ethics Stephen Behnke added that psychologists may actually 
help keep interrogations safe, by encouraging interrogators to talk to 
prisoners rather than employ harsher methods. "Psychologists take advisory 
or consultative roles in relation to interrogations to help ensure 
interrogations are safe, legal, ethical, and effective," Behnke wrote in an 

That may be true in some cases, but the presence of a psychologist did not 
prevent the interrogation of so-called 20th hijacker Mohammed al-Khatani at 
Guantánamo from turning brutal. Khatani was stripped naked, isolated, given 
intravenous fluids and forced to urinate on himself, and exercised to 
exhaustion during interrogations that lasted 18 to 20 hours a day for 48 of 
54 days.

Part of the plan was to humiliate Khatani and submit him to extreme 
psychological stress. He became exhausted, disoriented and hopeless. He was 
called a homosexual, forced to wear a mask and dance, and leashed and made 
to perform dog tricks. Interrogators hung pictures of fitness models on his 
neck and had a female interrogator "invade his personal space," according 
to the unredacted interrogation log obtained by Salon.

To help break down Khatani's psyche, the interrogation team included a 
psychologist, Maj. John Leso, a member of the military's Behavioral Science 
Consultation Teams, called BSCTs. The teams are a newly minted tool in the 
"war on terror." They include psychologists who are supposed to help 
interrogators break down resistance and pry loose useful information. 
Former Guantánamo commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller called the teams 
"essential in developing interrogation strategies" in a September 2003 
internal military report.

At various points during the questioning of Khatani, Leso's BSCT operators 
instructed interrogators to keep the prisoner awake, force him to stop 
staring at a wall, and advised on the effectiveness of techniques. "BSCT 
observed that detainee does not like it when the interrogator points out 
his nonverbal responses," reads an entry in the log from Dec. 29, 2002.

Leso's actions may not be typical. But the press has obtained a much more 
detailed record of Khatani's interrogation than that of any other 
"high-value" prisoner.

Leso's behavior would appear to violate the ethics principles that were 
later established by the APA task force, which bar "torture or other cruel, 
inhuman or degrading treatment." Those prohibitions might ordinarily appear 
to be unequivocal, but the Bush administration's "war on terror" has made 
them far murkier. As Zimbardo, the former APA president, noted, that kind 
of terminology is precisely the lexicon that Bush administration lawyers 
have turned into Swiss cheese. The Bush administration has "changed the 
definition of torture, the definition of detained prisoners, and the nature 
of their prolonged confinement without due process," Zimbardo said. In the 
Bush administration's eyes, Zimbardo said, "nothing done to such detainees 
qualifies as torture."

Several civilians close to the APA task force criticized the final product 
for failing to make a clear statement about the excesses of the "war on 
terror" and failing to explicitly say what psychologists can and cannot do. 
"It is a bunch of platitudes without any situational reality to it," said 
Jean Maria Arrigo, a civilian psychologist who served on the APA task force 
and founder of the Intelligence Ethics Collection at the Hoover Institution 
at Stanford University. "This was not a politically adequate document. 
There are no specifics in it. We needed to at least say that we can't do 
waterboarding," Arrigo said.

Arrigo said she doesn't have any complaints with the military members of 
the task force. Instead, she blames Koocher for the vagueness of the APA 
position statement, which allows psychologists broad latitude in 
interrogations. "Koocher was involved in appointing the task force, he 
strongly guided and monitored it and had taken the position of representing 
the document," she said.

Other civilian psychologists on the task force agree that the fault lies 
not with individual military members of the task force, but with the APA 
leadership. Task force member Michael Wessells, a psychology professor at 
Randolph-Macon College, resigned from the task force in protest early this 
year. According to his resignation letter, which he provided to Salon, "At 
the highest levels, the APA has not made a strong, concerted, 
comprehensive, public and internal response of the kind warranted by the 
severe human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay."

Wessels said that the ethics guidelines, which sailed through the APA's 
board of directors and Council of Representatives to become APA policy, 
never addressed such controversial questions. "I think by going this route, 
strategically, the organization was playing it safe," he said. "As a 
response to the nature of the situation, it was completely inadequate." 
Despite promises that the standards would be further debated, Wessells said 
that there was never any follow-up. As a result, he said, "I felt more than 
a little exploited."

Both sides expect intense debate next month over the interrogation 
standards -- and the question may overwhelm the other items on the APA's 
agenda at the convention. Koocher has asked Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the 
surgeon general of the Army, to come to New Orleans and address the 
organization's leadership.

Koocher acknowledged that his organization could revisit the issue in the 
future. "Remember that as far as APA is concerned, the issue is not over," 
Koocher said in a phone call.

But some psychologists are not satisfied with bland promises of further 
review. "At the moment, the American Psychological Association is complicit 
in the mode of interrogations going on at Guantánamo, by focusing on the 
justification for interrogation," said Reisner. "We are being used to 
further the ends of what amounts to torture."

-- By Mark Benjamin



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