The debate about psychologist’s participation in interrogations has taken a new turn with the release last week of the new report Educing Information: Interrogation Science and Art — Foundations for the Future. Phase I. Apparently the report was secretly published in December by the Intelligence Science Board but was recently leaked to the Federation of American Scientists, which publicly posted it. [UPDATE May 14, 2007: Charles Morgan claims in the comments that the group preparing this always intended to publish it. I have no reason to doubt him. Evidently I misinterpreted the Nature comment below that the report was leaked.]
It was compiled by a team of Advisers and a Government Experts Committee on Educing Information. Interestingly, these groups include three of the 10 members of the American Psychological Association’s Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security, the so-called PENS Task Force that contained six of nine voting members (there was a non-voting chair) from the military and intelligence communities; half of those six are involved here. The project was directed by Robert Fein, a member of the PENS Task Force.
The report give the Mission
“The Intelligence Science Board was chartered in August 2002 and advises the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and senior Intelligence Community leaders on emerging scientific and technical issues of special importance to the Intelligence Community. The mission of the Board is to provide the Intelligence Community with outside expert advice and unconventional thinking, early notice of advances in science and technology, insight into new applications of existing technology, and special studies that require skills or organizational approaches not resident within the Intelligence Community. The Board also creates linkages between the Intelligence Community and the scientific and technical communities.”
The PENS Task Force, therefore, was not just stacked with military and intelligence officials, but with extremely high-level officials. The choice of these individuals as the people to advise the APA on ethics clearly means that the decision regarding the Task Force’s recommendations was made in advance and members were chosen that would come up with the requisite recommendations. No wonder the Task Force membership was kept secret for as long as possible. There could not possibly be even a hint of legitimacy in a statement by this group that psychologist participation in interrogations was ethical.
It is far past time for the APA to set aside the PENS report, declaring it unacceptable due to the composition of the Task Force and the numerous procedural irregularities that occurred in the preparation of the report.
As for the Educing Information report, it concludes that there is no science-base for interrogations. No expert “knowledge” for the so-called Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT) of psychologists to use in consulting to interrogators. The BSCT interrogators were just using common sense, and the military’s own SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) experiences as they strove to figure out how to use detainees’ personal weaknesses to break them down.
The Washington Post reported on the Educing Information report last week in their article Interrogation Research Is Lacking, Report Says.
And the journal Nature today published an article online, which I reproduce here:
Interrogation comes under fire; Tough questioning tactics lack scientific foundation, intelligence agencies told
by Geoff Brumfiel
There is no scientific basis for current interrogation techniques, a US government-funded study has found. The report has stirred up controversy by calling for more research into the matter, angering many psychiatrists who believe such work is unethical.
The 374-page study on “educing information” was conducted by the Intelligence Science Board, an independent panel that advises the government’s intelligence agencies. The report concludes that “virtually none of the interrogation techniques used by US personnel over the past half-century have been subjected to scientific or systematic enquiry or evaluation”.
First published in December, the report became public last week after it was leaked to the Federation of American Scientists, a watchdog group based in Washington DC. Members of the study group declined to comment, citing the sensitive nature of their work.
The report provides a comprehensive review of military and law- enforcement interrogation techniques and finds numerous misperceptions, both within and outside professional circles. For example, it concludes that the belief that torture breaks down a subject’s resistance is without technical merit, as is the effectiveness of strategies such as sleep deprivation. It also finds that professional interrogators have as many erroneous beliefs as novices about how to use body language to spot liars, and concludes that current lie-detection technology is still highly unreliable.
In a controversial final chapter, the report calls for a systematic investigation of interrogation techniques to determine which yield the best information, and suggests reviewing the testimonials of former US prisoners of war to understand whether and how torture worked on them.
Finally, it calls for controlled studies on soldiers undergoing survival training and on college students willing to participate in “benign” research.
Such studies might be useful if they are conducted safely and ethically, says Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. He points out that regardless of scientists’ position on the matter, US soldiers and intelligence officers seem to be engaging in harsh interrogation practices in Iraq, Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, so they need to know what works, and what doesn’t. “We have not done very well in the absence of research,” he says.
Others disagree. “I doubt very much that any research could be done in a university setting or that any ethical person would do it,” says Alan Stone, a psychiatrist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Stone points out that interrogation is often designed to induce stress, and that raises a host of “intractable” ethical issues, such as how to gain consent from study subjects.
The fields of psychology and psychiatry are split over whether to carry out such work. In 2005, the American Psychological Association stated that psychologists could participate in interrogation, but not torture.
The American Psychiatric Association, meanwhile, has condemned any such work by its members. Gregg Bloche, a lawyer and psychiatrist at Georgetown University in Washington DC, says: “This underscores the need to make some rules.”
It should be noted that Educing Information is described on the title page as “Phase 1 Report.” Presumably Phase II will report on research studies on the most effective ways to “educe” information. Does waterboarding work better than threatening to kill family members? How effective is using a fear of spiders to break an individual? Should you allow no more than two hours of sleep a night, or is four ok, as stated in the new Armed Forces Manual on interrogations. Or, just perhaps, the good cop, bad cop routine is as effective as these more experimental techniques.
There is a real danger from “terrorists,” albeit an overblown one. Getting information is important, sometimes. But I, for one, do not trust the “intelligence community,” dirtied by involvement in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Baghram, extraordinary renditions, and the secret CIA prisons, to develop “ethical” and “scientifically-supported ways of educing information. By its nature, there will be no public oversight or control of such research as it will, undoubtedly, be classified. After all, we can’t let our enemies know what to expect when captured. And we certainly wouldn’t want other countries using our taxpayer-funded research to “educe information” from their rebels, or even, heaven forbid, from captured Americans.
Of course, the APA will be delighted to have yet another opportunity to demonstrate the importance of psychology to the “national security” effort. They’ll be hoping that those fat research grants will go to psychologists — and not to their arch-rivals, the psychiatrists — as the profession has demonstrated its loyalty.
The lack of scientific knowledge on how to “educe information” will, no doubt be trotted out by the APA leadership as yet another reason why psychologists must “engage” with the intelligence community by participating in interrogations. This call for “scientific eduction” will likely ignite the next phase of our battle against the use of psychological knowledge for human destruction rather than healing.
8 comments January 24th, 2007