Daily Kos and Never In Our Names diarist Valtin has issued an Action Call for public protest of APA’s refusal to condemn psychologist participation in interrogations. Please join in sending letters, etc.
Action Diary! Your help needed RIGHT NOW to stop torture
Politics is about timing and tactics. By a unique confluence of events, and the way the CIA and military organized their methods of interrogation, a serious weakness in their ability to conduct torture has been discovered. If we strike now — with letters, faxes, emails, etc. — we can put a great deal of pressure on a particular vulnerable group who has the ability to greatly hamper the ability of the U.S. government to torture.
When the government researched coercive interrogation in the 1950s and 1960s, they put a great deal of emphasis on the psychological means of understanding human beings, and then using this knowledge to break human beings down. Now, psychologists at the American Psychological Association are trying to stop members from participating in this criminal process, just as members of other health organizations have so prohibited their members.
The psychologists are fighting what seems like a losing battle. But the struggle isn’t finished. It is time to reach out to the public to exert their influence on the insular APA leadership. What follows is a brief description of the situation, followed by a direct action call for messages to be sent to key figures at APA.
A Moratorium Against Psychologist Participation in Torture
Stephen Soldz has a good diary up right now that explains how the American Psychological Association is trying to deep-six a resolution that calls for a moratorium on psychologist participation in torture interrogations at places like Guantanamo Bay prison.
One year ago (!), Neil Altman, an APA psychologist, presented a resolution that was non-binding, but called for APA to take a stand against psychologist participation in foreign intelligence interrogations, after the passing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 made clear that cruel and unusual methods of interrogation, if not outright torture, would be allowed, and that Bush would decide what met Geneva treaty norms and what didn’t.
APA leadership could have fast-tracked this resolution, but they sunk it under a thousand tons of bureaucratic verbiage and the full weight of the serpentine process that is approval of a proposal at APA. Here’s a snippet of the response to Dr. Altman’s resolution by the Ethics Chair of APA, Dr. Stephen Behnke, dated 11/1/06:
In reviewing the item, the Ethics Committee had several points of observation that it offers for your consideration and on which it requests your feedback.
First, the Committee noted the phrase “U.S. detention centers.” The Committee was uncertain as to the intended scope of this term, which interpreted broadly could include
any facility where individuals are detained, for example psychiatric hospitals, jails and prisons, or INS centers….
Second, the Committee noted the term “foreign detainees” and was unclear what group of individuals you wished to identify. Do you, for example, mean individuals who are not
citizens of the United States?
Uh, well, what’s the definition of a “detention center”? What’s a “foreign detainee”? — Behnke and the APA leadership seek to bury the resolution the way a high priced lawyer destroys a poor litigant by filing multiple motions. They would make a simple statement of honest integrity, a statement easily made, for instance by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association, into a case as dense and eternal as Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce.
We have been through all this before with APA. Avila wrote a great diary back in 2006 explaining how APA reversed an earlier stand on torture to make their membership available for Guantanamo and similary interrogations. I followed up with an explanation of how phony legal arguments inserted into an anti-torture resolution at an APA conference rescued the use of torture for the CIA and Pentagon.
According to the U.S. Declaration to the UN Convention on Torture, psychological harm or suffering is defined as NOT COMING from psychological forms of torture. — Of course, it doesn’t SAY this outright, but that’s what IT’S MEANT to allow, by art of legal definition.
I don’t want to rehash the entire controversy here. Suffice it to say — and please go read more, following the links — both the U.S. government and the American Psychogical Association leadership have consprired to keep the legal and organizational justifications in place to allow psychological forms of torture to continue.
By psychological torture, I mean sensory deprivation and sensory overload, sleep deprivation, isolation, manipulation of time and temperature, inducement of phobic fears and humiliation, forced stress positioning, and the propagation of psychological futility. There is a wealth of evidence that shows such techniques break down the nervous constitution of human beings, inducing psychosis and long-term psychological damage, primarily PTSD.
The Strategic Place of Mental Health Professionals in CIA-style Torture
When the American Psychiatric Association saw fit to forbid its members from participating in Bush’s torture interrogations, the Pentagon made it clear it would turn elsewhere — and by that, they meant psychologists!
Of course, the American Psychological Association was quick to not that its psychiatric sister organization was not proposing a total moratorium, allowing “training to military or civilian investigative or law enforcement personnel… on the possible medical and psychological effects of particular techniques and conditions of interrogation”.
That wasn’t good enough for the Pentagon, who announced on June 7, 2006:
Pentagon officials said Tuesday that they would try to use only psychologists, and not psychiatrists, to help interrogators devise strategies to get information from detainees at places like Guantánamo Bay, Cuba….
Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told reporters that the new policy favoring the use of psychologists over psychiatrists was a recognition of differing positions taken by their respective professional groups.
(Yes, this is the same Winkenwerder who had to resign over the Walter Reed scandal.)
As far back as 1963, in the text of its infamous KUBARK counterintelligence interrogation manual, the CIA made clear its need for psychological expertise in interrogations. What follows is from the CIA’s “Interrogator’s Check List”:
The questions that follow are intended as reminders for the interrogator and his superiors….
- Does the interrogators selected for the task meet the four criteria of (a) adequate training and experience, (b) genuine familiarity with the language to be used, (c) knowledge of the geographical/cultural area concerned, and (d) psychological comprehension of the interrogatee?
- Has the prospective interrogatee been screened? What are his major psychological characteristics? Does he belong to one of the nine major categories listed in pp. 19-28? Which?…
- Is solitary confinement to be used? Why? Does the place of confinement permit the practical elimination of sensory stimuli?…
- If hypnosis or drugs are thought necessary, has Headquarters been given enough advance notice? Has adequate allowance been made for travel time and other preliminaries?
- Is the interrogatee suspected of malingering? If the interrogator is uncertain, are the services of an expert available?
By the early 21st century, the use of psychological personnel was bureaucratically soldified via the formation of Behavioral Consultant Teams or BSCTs (“biscuits”). As described by Arthur Levine at Washington Monthly:
[Guantanamo Commander] Major General Geoffrey Miller believed strongly in breaking detainees down, and that psychologists were crucial to this effort. (Miller would later be dispatched to Abu Ghraib to “Gitmo-ize” the prison by giving advice on detainee treatment, where, according to one general, he told subordinates that detainees should be “treated like dogs.”)
Miller approved the creation of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs), which would include psychologists and other medical professionals. In theory, these “biscuit teams” would advise interrogators on how to develop a rapport with detainees, but in practice, things were less Dale Carnegie-esque. When one army psychologist and APA member helped interrogate Mohammed al-Khatani, the supposed “20th hijacker,” some of the techniques used included stripping Khatani naked, giving him intravenous fluids to force him to urinate on himself, exercising him to exhaustion, and making him roll over and perform other dog tricks. The interrogation log includes such psychological observations as “detainee seemed too comfortable.”
Anti-torture Psychologists Need Our Help!
Very few psychologists I speak to think they can really get the APA to back down from their pro-government position. And they may be right, if the fight is limited to only a dispute within APA!
We need to broaden this struggle. The blogosphere has responded to other crises with letters, faxes, phone calls and other forms of legitimate political protest when the issue has called for it.
It is time to bring the struggle against torture to the leadership of the APA. They must hear the voices of the society as a whole, shouting NO to torture, and NO to psychologist participation in coercive interrogations.
Write or call the APA:
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242
Write and call, now. Let them know how upset you are.
Send an email to the Public Affairs Office of the APA, expressing your outrage:
Phone the Ethics Office directly at (202) 336-5930 or use APA’s toll free number (800) 374-2721, extension 5930, and give them a piece of your mind.
And finally, write to the President of the APA, Dr. Sharon Stephens Brehm. Be nice, be polite, but be firm (this is true for ALL communications).
Dr. Brehm has a web page, Ask the President. Follow the link to leave an email message directly for her.
If we apply enough pressure, it might make the APA stand up and take notice. If you are a Daily Kos diarist or front pager, you might want to help and make this fight yours, too. And, don’t forget to write your congressman/congresswoman and senator, too!
WE CAN DO IT!
We don’t have to be powerless. We aren’t helpless. Write, call, email today. Copy this diary’s URL and send it to your friends.
I want to see APA inundated with thousands of messages saying “Stop torture. Stop psychologist participation in coercive interrogations. Support Dr. Altman’s moratorium”.
Together, we can prevail.
See the beautiful letter sent by attorney Gary L. Norton in response to this call:
Dear Dr. Brehm,
I urge you to support the pending APA Moratorium Against Psychologists Participating in Torture Interrogations.
I am a retired attorney who spent a career in the Legislative and Executive branches of the Federal Government. I understand well the pressure that the government can assert to coerce a desired result. The APA must resist that pressure as did you sister organization of psychiatrists.
We are nearing the end of a shameful period in our history. Soon, people will be held to account for what they did or allowed to be done. Our treatment of detainees will be universally seen as a stain on our reputation here at home as it already is overseas. It will be viewed with the same infamy as our internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry during WW II.
Your organization is better than this. It’s members are better than this. Moral courage in these times is difficult but essential. The reputation and standing of our country is at stake. You now have a special burden to participate in the process of righting our National ship of state. I urge you to undertake that burden and lead the APA in a direction that all of your members will look back on with pride.
Thank you for your consideration.
Gary L. Norton
April 30th, 2007
News of an upcoming conference in Chicago on psychologists and torture:
The Chicago Association for Psychoanalytic Psychology
The Chicago School for Professional Psychology – Center for Multicultural and Diversity Studies
A Symposium: Psychologists, the APA, and Coercive Interrogations
Saturday, May 12, 2007
12:30 noon to 3:30pm
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
325 N. Wells Street
(Across the street from the east side of the Merchandise Mart)
Close to public transportation and parking garages.
With presentations and discussions facilitated by:
Brad Olson, Ph.D.
Frank Summers, Ph.D., ABPP
Gary Walls, Ph.D.
This very important symposium will focus upon the American Psychological Association’s (APA) current position involving psychologist participation in coercive interrogation in U.S. detention centers as well as the involvement of psychologists in military actions during wartime. A group of committed psychologists have been working to influence the APA to adopt an unequivocal stance against psychologists using their knowledge and skills in coercive manners – including but not limited to physical, psychological and emotional torture. These psychologists are especially focused upon closing “loopholes” in the APA Ethical Guidelines that could be used to support activities that cause harm to human beings by violating basic human rights.
The history of differing stances within APA will be discussed to clarify the current issues and bring the audience up to date on the conflict first discussed at the CAPP CE Program on April 1, 2006. This discussion will focus upon some of the manifest and latent reasons for the current APA policy, and why change is necessary for the field of psychology. In addition, the symposium will include discussion of a number of initiatives, including necessary changes in the APA ethics code as well as the APA moratorium.
1] To develop a greater understanding of how the APA ethics code impacts psychological practice.
2] To develop a greater understanding of how human rights, law and policy impact psychological practice.
3] To identify the major positions within the APA regarding psychologists’ involvement in military action including interrogation and torture.
4] To develop critical evaluation skills of the implied moral commitments that underlie professional ethical guidelines.
5] To develop critical evaluation skills of political agendas that are embedded in the language and wording of the APA ethical guidelines.
6] To develop a clearer understanding of the historical context for the form and changes in professional ethical guidelines across time.
$10.00 at the door for current CAPP members (includes CEs and CEUs for licensed professionals)
$15.00 at the door for non-CAPP members (includes CEs and CEUs for licensed professionals)
FREE to students with valid school ID.
Frank Summers, Ph.D., ABPP is a supervising and training analyst at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry ant the Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Medical School. He serves as a faculty member of the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis and the Minnesota and Wisconsin Institutes for Psychoanalysis. He is the author of three books: Object relations theories and psychopathology: A comprehensive text (1994), Transcending the self (1999), Self creation: Psychoanalytic therapy and the art of the possible (2005). He is a member of the Editorial Board of Psychoanalytic Inquiry. Last but not least, Dr. Summers is a member of CAPP.
Gary Walls, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology (CSoPP), on the Board of APA’s DIV39-Section IX Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and on the CSoPP’s Committee for Multicultural and Diversity Studies. He is an advanced candidate at the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis, and author of several articles on the political and societal implications of psychoanalysis conceived as a social practice. Dr. Walls is also a member of CAPP.
Brad Olson, Ph.D. is a personality, social and community psychologist and faculty at the Foley Center for the Study of Lives at Northwestern University in the School for Education and Social Policy. He is President of Divisions for Social Justice (DSJ) a collection of 12 divisions of the American Psychological Association and their executive committees. DSJ includes the Division of Psychoanalysis (DIV39). In addition to his work on life stories, narratives, and psychobiography, he is an activist who led an effort to place a treatment on demand referendum initiative on the Cook County ballot. Dr. Olson has published several articles on psychologist involvement in interrogations and — working with groups like Physicians for Human Rights, Psychologists Acting with Conscience Together (PsyACT), and Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) — he has taken a strong stance against psychologist participation in torture and interrogations, and for the APA moratorium.
April 30th, 2007
In an attempt to get the American Psychological Association to come to terms with the moral crisis posed by psychologist participation in coercive interrogations at Guantanamo, Bagram, the CIA black sites, and elsewhere, psychologist Neil Altman last summer proposed a Resolution for a Moratorium on Psychologist Participation in Interrogations at US Detention Centers Holding Foreign Detainees, so-called “Enemy Combatants” [pdf; see also the draft justification statement; and other related materials.]
Here is the Summary and Overview of the resolution:
This summary and overview emphasizes aspects central to the proposed moratorium resolution. The points below will also address certain misconceptions that have arisen concerning the resolution.
1. The resolution does not allege that any psychologist has behaved in an unethical, illegal, or improper manner, or that any psychologists are currently engaging in harmful behavior. The resolution is prospective and preventative, not accusatory or punitive in purpose or in spirit, and will serve as a protection for military psychologists.
2. The resolution is not enforceable. If passed the resolution will amount to a position statement on the part of APA and will not be binding on any organization or any individual psychologist. In this respect it is similar to the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association resolutions, which are likewise not enforceable.
3. The resolution is necessary because of an ambiguous legal framework that surrounds the conduct of interrogations. The Military Commissions Act (MCA) of 2006 creates a conflict between US law and International Law over what constitutes an act of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. According to the MCA, only “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions are to be considered War Crimes under US law. Also under the MCA, the President is granted sole power to define what constitutes a “grave breach” as opposed to a less than grave breach of the Conventions. As a consequence of this uncertain legal framework, military psychologists do not have binding or even adequate guidance concerning what interrogation techniques are permissible, which is a critical flaw in the current situation that APA must address.
4. The resolution is intended to address a problem that has a political basis, i.e., the US Congress and President taking an action potentially at variance with International Law, when APA, as a Non-Governmental Organization accredited to the United Nations, is pledged to promote and support International Law. APA has been put in a position where it has to address the contradictions created by this political situation, despite its best intentions to restrict itself to scientific matters. APA must make clear that psychologists behave in accordance with international human rights instruments.
5. Psychologists must now assess whether interrogations are being conducted in a legal manner; thus psychologists are being put in a position of acting as attorneys. Psychologists are not qualified to make the legal judgments that they must now make by virtue of the passage of the Military Commissions Act. In the current situation, even a lawyer would be hard-pressed to address the legal contradictions and determine what interrogation techniques are permissible.
6. The resolution is based on considerable empirical data. The justification statement for the resolution summarizes these data. Further empirical data regarding torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment are to be found in the statement against torture put forward by Division 9, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues [www.spssi.org; see Statement on the Use of Torture]. Further elaboration of the empirical basis for this resolution will be detailed in the future development of this resolution.
7. The moratorium will be lifted when United States law governing military interrogations states that orders relevant to the treatment of detainees may not violate the Geneva Conventions.
In the arcane APA system, unless the leadership decides otherwise, it takes a full year to bring most such resolutions to vote. During this time, various APA committees and constituencies weigh in on the issue.
After months of tireless effort, Dr. Altman has found out that none of APA governing committees (such as the Ethics Committee or the Committee on Legal Affairs) will support the Moratorium resolution. as a result, Dr. Altman has written the following letter to his cosponsors explaining why he will proceed to a vote in the August APA Council of Representatives meeting, despite all obstacles:
Thank you to those of you who made comments to me about how to proceed with the Moratorium Resolution. On Saturday I had a phone conversation with Steve Behnke, Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, Robin Deutsch (current chair of the ethics committee) and Paul Donnelly (who consulted to us on procedural matters). I told them I want to proceed with the resolution and present it to the Board of Directors and then to the Council or Representatives, with or without the endorsement of the Ethics Committee. I want to explain why I came to this conclusion.
First, I found no basis in the comments of the Governance Groups for further negotiations. Objection was taken to a political basis for the resolution, and objection was taken to a legal basis for the resolution.
There can be no ethical basis for the resolution, since the current code of ethics of APA allows for the ethics code to be violated when a member is given a lawful order, or is following a lawful regulation (as per US law).
So, as far as I can tell, no basis for the resolution is recognized as legitimate by the governance groups. The primary justification for the resolution as set forth was a legal one, having to do with potential and actual discrepancies between US and international law that put those involved with interrogations in detention centers in an untenable legal osition. The Committee on Legal Issues held to their position that APA should not take a position on a legal issue despite my argument to the contrary at the Consolidated Meetings. There is not any quarrel with the justification itself; rather the objection is to the legitimacy of any legal justification. No group recognized that the 2006 APA resolution against torture affirmed that APA is now bound to promote international law as set forth in UN documents and resolutions, and no group recognized that the lack of due process for detainees is itself cruel, inhuman, and degrading as per the 5th, 8th, and 14th amendments to the US constitution, which is how the US itself defines torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (in its ratification of the Geneva Conventions). So I see no reason to believe that further negotiations would lead to a compromise that would preserve the point of the resolution, nor was any such negotiation invited by the Committee on Legal Issues.
Other groups did suggest that torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment at domestic prisons should be addressed by the resolution, but to me this is a separate problem, though a serious one. US citizens held in US prisons have due process available to them, where “enemy combatants” held off shore do not. The moratorium resolution addresses only this latter situation. I would be very supportive if someone were to offer a moratorium resolution addressing psychologist participation in torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment at US prisons, but that would be a separate matter and would result in an additional extensive process within APA involving considerable negotiation, I am sure, with prison and police psychologists.
This latter point brings me to the question of timing. I believe that the moratorium resolution needs to be considered in August, one year after I proposed it. If I were to agree not to let it go forward to the Board of Directors at this point, Council would have to suspend its rules to consider it in August. If it failed to do so, the matter would be put off until February at least. I consider it likely that, given the political situation in the US, a new administration in Washington in 2009 will close down Guantanamo Bay and other off shore detention facilities operated by the Military Services (though CIA and other non-military centers will likely remain). At that point, APA’s opportunity to take a position on this dark chapter in US history will have passed. While I greatly value APA’s commitment to consensus-building, there are situations of urgent need to address an immediate situation in which people are being mistreated.
I remain willing and eager to talk to any division or governance group that wants to negotiate on the Moratorium Resolution. The Military Psychologists have indicated that they think a moratorium would be harmful to their members; I have indicated to them that I am willing to consider language that would express respect for those who continue to function in various health-care capacities in the detention centers, and that recognizes differences of opinion on the value of psychologist involvement with interrogations. I also have indicated that I am open to language calling on APA to support, financially and otherwise, military psychologists who encounter legal or other problems as a result of refusal to participate in interrogations despite being ordered to do so.
I understand that some of you recommended that I delay taking the resolution to the Board of Directors to allow time for re-thinking the matter given the positions taken by Governance Groups. If some of you wish to withdraw your support for the resolution, I will understand. I hope that I have laid out clearly my reasons for wanting to go forward, and I will be happy to explain further if you get in touch with me.
This letter perfectly illustrates the brilliance of the APA leadership. They are able to curtail every effort to justify change, when they oppose such change. APA can’t get involved in politics, though they did endorse the McCain amendment. As then APA Presidend Gerald Koocher claimed:
I was extraordinarily pleased to see APA show strong public support for the McCain amendment, which embodies these principles so central to our ethics as psychologists. Sen. McCain called for uniform standards of interrogation and a prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of U.S. detainees, wherever they are held…. Supporting the McCain amendment was the right thing to do, and APA did it. The New York Times published a letter, signed by Ron Levant as well as the presidents of the American Psychiatric Association and the American College of Physicians, stating that the McCain amendment, which is now law, would “help ensure that our colleagues in the national-security setting are never drawn into abusive, harmful or unethical interrogations and detention practices….”
No problem with taking a “political” position, when the leadership felt that it was good for PR. But, now that the McCain amendment has been nullified by the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which essentially legalized torture, the APA sees nothing but impediments to opposing psychologist cooperation.
Last year the APA passed a Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Those who sponsored and promoted this resolution viewed it as a way-station on the road to dealing with the problem of psychologists in interrogations. They have supported Dr. Altman’s Moratorium, and saw it as the natural extension of last year’s resolution; these advocates in the Association’s Peace Psychology division have put forward an eloquent argument in favor of the Moratorium.
Unfortunately, the APA leadership have just spat upon that argument. They have once again made clear that participation in the abuses America’s detention centers is a defining principle for the country’s organized psychology. No moral principles, no legal arguments, no political positions, and certainly not human decency, will be allowed to interfere with that defining principle.
In pursuing the Moratorium, proponents have deliberately downplayed the extensive evidence that psychologists are not simply unwitting victims of abuse, but are crucial instruments of it. As shown through the reporting Jane Mayer, of Mark Benjamin, of Bill Dedman, and of Steven Miles, demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the psychologist-led Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) utilized torture techniques learned from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program (where psychologists play a prominent role) and “reverse engineered” them to develop techniques to break down detainees. As Benjamin of Salon states:
There are striking similarities between the reported detainee abuse at both Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and the techniques used on soldiers going through SERE school, including forced nudity, stress positions, isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and exhaustion from exercise.
Thus, the APA leadership are not simply protecting their access to top Defense and Intelligence officials who can aid them in the pursuit of money, prestige, and influence for psychologists, at the same time, these leaders are actively abetttng the administration’s torture policy as Art Levine explained last January in the Washington Monthly: Collective Unconscionable: How psychologists, the most liberal of professionals, abetted Bush’s torture policy.
It is now up to the APA’s members to decide if they wish to continue abetting torture, or whether they will, against all odds, force the organization to take a truly moral position and pass the Moratorium over the objections of the leadership. APA members, and others, who wish to join this struggle of civilization against organized barbarism can go to psyact.org/?q=do-NO-harm where they can sign a petition, and join email lists focussed upon the issue. There are plans for a wide variety of activities before and during the Association’s August Convention. This struggle will determine the moral future of psychology for decades to come as psychologists decide whether they are a profession dedicated to the good of society as well as to personal survival and growth, or whether the pursuit of money, jobs, and influence will come to dominate all.
April 29th, 2007
On Wednesday, Bill Moyers presented Buying the War, his special that dissects the the prewar media “reporting” on the war, showing how the media willfully closed their eyes to the massive administration lies. For once, there are good guys, namely the wonderful reporters of Knight-Ridder, and a few others, who didn’t put their intelligence to the side as they propagated government propaganda.
Of course, there are the bad guys. In addition to the “reporters” who were just court scribes for official sources, the show demolishes Colin Powell’s UN speech, showing that it was not based so much on bad intelligence, as on downright lies and deception. Time and again, Powell declined to mention the obvious counter-interpretations to his nonsense. And the press bought it whole hog.
Other than Judith Miller, I’m not aware of a single journalist or pundit who resigns or was fired for what may be one of the most massive failures of reporting in modern times.
Watch the show here. And pass it on to others. The transcript can be read here.
April 29th, 2007
LancetIraq mortality study author Riyadh Lafta, recently unable to speak in the United States because he was a visa, and in Canada, because the UK denied a transit visa, now fears for his life back in Baghdad, the Globe and Mail reports:
Doctor fears for life in homeland
Prevented from speaking at SFU, author continues controversial work despite danger
A scientist known for counting the dead from the U.S.-led war in Iraq spent this week fearing for his own life in Baghdad after being denied a transit visa through Britain to Canada.
Riyadh Lafta, who co-authored a controversial study that estimated the war-related deaths at more than half a million, had planned to tell students at Simon Fraser University about his work and then spend a week in retreat near West Vancouver, writing a paper about an alarming rise in cancers among Iraqi children.
He would have left Canada today. Instead, he taught to all-but-empty classes at al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, with students fearful of attacks choosing to not leave their homes.
“This country is a killing machine,” said Dr. Lafta in a phone interview from Baghdad. “And can one escape death? No one can.”
In January, two car bombs ripped through his university, killing 70 and injuring more than 200, mostly students. In February, a female suicide bomber killed more than 40 more. Several days ago, Dr. Lafta received word that one of his colleagues – a pediatric lecturer in Baghdad, although Dr. Lafta would not give his name – had been killed.
“They took money from his family, and yet still they assassinated him,” he said.
“Even a man who is a little bit well known is at extreme risk of being killed,” he said. “Now, when I talk to you, really I am risking my life.”
Dr. Lafta, 47, rarely speaks with the media and would not discuss much of his life in Baghdad: his family, his daily routine, his new research, or his political views. His home was searched by coalition forces several weeks ago.
His science, epidemiology, is the study of health on the scale of a population. It sometimes mixes with politics – often unpleasantly, he said.
The study he co-authored, which was published in the prestigious Lancet medical journal, sent volunteers door-to-door to get estimates for small communities throughout Iraq, and then extrapolated the number of war dead at 654,965 – or about 2.5 per cent of the population.
That was 10 times higher than other independent counts such as the Iraq Body Count, and 20 times higher than the number the Bush administration uses. According to a recent survey, it’s about 66 times higher than the number the average American believes – 9,800.
The study was a bombshell that convinced some public figures to recant their support for the war. But it was also attacked in the American media, and Dr. Lafta believes the Americans who wage the war must know the damage they’re doing.
“It is our duty to concentrate on the things that are alarming and disastrous to our population,” he said. “This is unpopular. I know it is. But the challenge is to find the truth. I am not a politician. I hate politics.”
Dr. Lafta had originally planned to speak at the University of Washington, but could not get a visa to the United States. Canada offered a visa, but as he was en route to Jordan, a pass to spend four hours in Heathrow airport in London was denied on the basis of his citizenship.
That’s despite a week-long stay in the U.K. two years ago, when he delivered teeth specimens to Randy Parrish at the University of Leicester, said Dr. Parrish in an e-mail interview.
“I cannot really understand this denial of a visa, since he obtained one a couple of years ago evidently without incident,” said Dr. Parrish, who met Dr. Lafta in June, 2005.
The British Embassy in Canada refrained from commenting on the inconsistency. But Dr. Lafta’s colleague in the child-cancer study, SFU professor Tim Takaro, said, “There’s no reason anything should have changed between those two visits. The only thing that changed was the Lancet study.”
While that study is unpopular in the U.S., doing that kind of research can be deadly in Iraq, said Les Roberts, a co-author of the study from Johns Hopkins University.
“When was the last time there was a vicious war that went on for four years and 2.5 per cent of the people didn’t die?” he said.
“I’m worried sick about him being one of them, and the irony is he could be killed by pro-government people and anti-government people with almost equal probability.”
His colleagues are trying to get Dr. Lafta’s data, which suggest an increase in birth defects and a tenfold rise in childhood cancers that could be due to the war. They are trying to find a direct flight for Dr. Lafta to Canada, or a connection through a country that will grant a visa.
Until then, Dr. Lafta says he will continue his research. The war has to some extent heightened his senses, he says.
“You use it to concentrate more, and you start to struggle for something,” he said. “Maybe your adrenaline is going. You have an objective, and the difficult conditions make a special kind of person. It makes you more courageous.”
While many professionals have left the country, Dr. Lafta’s work – and his patriotism – keep him in Iraq.
“I can’t leave my home just because I am scared of being killed,” he said. “I think have lived enough.”
[h/t to MediaLens Message Board.]
April 28th, 2007
What a country! Allowing publication of article advocating tolerance gets teacher transfered!
WOODBURN, Indiana (AP) — A high school teacher who faced losing her job after a student newspaper published an editorial advocating tolerance of gays can continue teaching at another school.
Amy Sorrell, 30, reached an agreement that allows her to be transferred to another high school to teach English, said her attorney, Patrick Proctor.
“The school administration has said in no uncertain terms that she’s not going to be given a journalism position,” Proctor said.
Sorrell, who had been an English and journalism instructor at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School, was placed on paid leave March 19, two months after an editorial advocating tolerance of homosexuals ran in Woodlan’s student newspaper, The Tomahawk. Sorrell had been the newspaper’s adviser.
School officials in the conservative northern Indiana community about 10 miles east of Fort Wayne said Sorrell did not comply with an agreement to alert the principal about controversial articles.
The agreement she signed includes a written reprimand that says she neglected her duties as a teacher and was insubordinate in refusing to obey school officials’ orders.
Sorrell said she is “very proud” of Megan Chase, the student who wrote the editorial calling for tolerance and acceptance of gays, and the Tomahawk’s other writers and editors. But she said she could not financially afford to fight the school district over her discipline.
April 28th, 2007
David Bromwich on Huffington Post understands what Guantanamo is all about, the assertion of absolute power [Slavery in Guantanamo]:
Torture and slavery have something in common. They are expressions of a power that admits no restraint on itself. They issue from the instinct for domination, hardened by a savage self-protectiveness. Yet a slave might always assert his freedom by choosing to die. This last resort has been denied to the Guantanamo prisoners. If they refuse to eat, they are force-fed intravenously. We keep them alive, and starve them of justice, and kill them by inches. Is this done to prevent their becoming martyrs? But they are already martyrs from the terms of their imprisonment. The force-feeding is really the last refinement of state coercion and cruelty.
The problem of Guantanamo is a problem for American society at large. How many fine careers, in how many professions, have been advanced by warm compliance with the new license regarding torture? Think of the authors of the “torture memos,” John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others. Think of John Roberts, whose opinion against the prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan, when Roberts sat on the D.C. circuit court of appeals, came seasonably less than a week before his nomination to the supreme court. Or think of the stars and writers of the series 24, which insinuates at once the glamour and the dark necessity of torture.
“Our children,” someone said, “are less likely to be hurt by repeal of habeas corpus than they are by a terrorist bomb.” This was a muttered comment (nothing more) by a liberal and an opponent of the Iraq war. Yet it revealed a psychological process — the rationalization by which we barter liberty in order to maintain a vague conceit of security. Better to keep up the arbitrary imprisonment of a few hundred persons, who neither look nor think like us, than to diminish the muffled impression of safety. The train of thought is a sedative; it adds to the gentle suffocation of American freedom under the consensus of fear; but there is anyway this much justice in the tangle of self-deception and cynicism that holds us captive: we cannot possibly break free of it without also freeing others.
There is yet another aspect of Guantanamo. It is a laboratory for the destruction of the human soul, a place where techniques for humanicide can be investigated and refined. Psychology is a critical component of this experimental facility. No wonder the American Psychological Association is so determined to protect the participation of psychologists in this inhuman laboratory. After all, if certain elements of our society have their way, torturer (aka “interrogator” or “grand inquisitor”) may be one of the few growth professions should Americans rebel against the loss of other jobs and the decline of the “American way of life.”
April 27th, 2007