Waylon Lewis, at Huffington Post, disagrees with the call for boycotting Whole Foods. Go there and read it. Also disagreeing is reader Katherie, who sent this response [reprinted with permission]:
I read your Op-Ed news piece and while you have strong views and disagree with Mr. Mackey’s viewpoint about health care and the cost of food in Whole Foods stores, speaking as an ordinary citizen living in an agricultural district where I can grow food in the back yard if needed, city dwellers don’t usually have that option and are, instead, dangerously dependent on outside sources for food, including all the food sold in city supermarkets. Regarding health care, though, in the spirit of a fair and balanced approach, I would suggest checking out the employee health care insurance practices at, say, Kroger’s supermarkets.
Specifically, I would urge more investigation prior to any boycott of one of the few remaining food stores that still offers wholesome alternatives to industrial ‘food’. I would further suggest seeing two new documentaries about the food supply titled, “Food, Inc.” and “Fresh” along with reading this article titled, “No Bar Code” at
I would urge you–and all citizens–to do homework on the food supply along with the legislation referenced below in this email which has already passed in the House. To this end, I have included a number of websites that offer much more in-depth information about the food we eat and feed children. (Through Farm Bills, big business has been supplying ‘food’ for school lunch programs also.) A message from the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association regarding the legislation is also included. Strong, hugely-financed lobbies in Washington are hardly limited to health insurance.
Beyond the 1500 Indian farmers who committed suicide as a consequence of the practices of Monsanto and other multinational agribusiness interests, preliminaries about some ‘ethics’ and practices of agribusiness food suppliers, include these. Click on each company to read more about it:
To read this particular legislation for yourself, go to thomas.loc.gov (no www), enter the bill number, click search. For info. about the referenced National Animal Identification System [NAIS] which affects all livestock, horse, sheep, poultry and llama owners–see www.nonais.org.
Mr. Mackey’s approach to health care solutions might not appeal to you–or me, either– although I would urge serious reflection about the context of the food supply and supermarket vendors, including this:
A police officer in the Syracuse, New York, area Tasered a 37-year-old mom repeatedly in front of her children during a routine traffic stop—and then arrested the mom, leaving the children alone in their family minivan for 40 minutes in freezing weather.
The incident took place in Onondaga County, New York, on January 31, but dashcam video of the incident only recently came to light.
According to a report at syracuse.com, what started out as a routine traffic stop escalated quickly when 37-year-old Audra Harmon challenged officer Sean Andrews assertion that she had been talking on her cell phone when he pulled her over. Harmon disputed that fact, as well as the officers claim that she had been speeding—doing 50 mph in a 45 zone.
An article at MSNBC.com describes the situation:
Harmon had been driving home with her 15-year-old son, whom she had just picked up from wrestling practice, and 5-year-old daughter. She said she was resting her right hand on her cheek as she pulled behind a sheriffs deputy to make a right turn onto the road where she lived. After she made the turn, the deputy pulled off the road to let her pass, then pulled out behind her with his lights flashing and siren blaring.
When Harmon got out of her minivan to show Officer Andrews that she wasnt in possession of a cell phone, and to ask to see video footage of her allegedly talking on the cell phone she didnt possess, the officer ordered her to get back in her car.
And then he pulled out his taser and said Im under arrest, Harmon said. I got back in the car and he said he wanted me back out of the car now. And I said Why am I under arrest? He then yanked me out of the car pulled his taser out and the first shot jolted me
According to Syracuse.com, Harmon was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and going 50 in a 45 mph zone. The district attorneys office dismissed the charges a month later—after watching the videotape, said her lawyer, Terrance Hoffmann.
Amazingly, the officer had justified Harmons arrest by saying she had obstructed traffic by getting out of her minivan.
As MSNBC points out, when Harmon was arrested, her children, aged five and 15, were left by the side of the road for forty minutes.
Harmon is suing the Onondaga County sheriffs office. Officer Andrews has been taken off street patrol and reassigned until an internal affairs investigation is completed, the sheriffs office said.
I have never been a fan of Whole Foods [aka, "Whole Checkbook"], formerly Bread and Circus [or "Bread and Ripoff", as I called them then]. When they first opened in Cambridge, my then wife got a job there. Her job, as she described it, was to recommend various food supplements to people who had particular ailments or health concerns. The thing was, she knew nothing about nutrition and was given no training. When she asked her supervisor how to field the questions of the customers, she was told “Just make it up.” So she did.
She also told me that the produce section was spayed with insecticide every morning, to deal with the usual Cambridge roach infestation. Thus, it seemed, the food may have arrived organic but it certainly wasn’t when it left the store in customer’s baskets.
Further, the owner made no secret of his total disdain for labor unions or any other expressions of workers’ rights.
I am therefore not surprised to find out that the Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has come out against real healthcare reform and in favor of Republican “free market reforms” to aid the wealthy in a Wall Street Journal op ed:
T]he last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction”"toward less government control and more individual empowerment.
Among his brilliant ideas are allowing insurance companies to search for the least regulated state to operate from:
Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.
He advocates cutting Medicare, by making seniors more “responsible” for their care, meaning they must pay a larger share of the costs:
Enact Medicare reform.We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and enact reforms that create greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility.
Fortunately, he has solved the healthcare financing riddle that has eluded so many others. Healthcare will become a step-child of publicly-funded elections:
[R]evise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Mackey also informs us that we have no right to healthcare, or to food or shelter:
Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America.
After all, if you get sick, it’s your own fault:
Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending”"heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity”"are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices.
Finally, Mackey suggests that voluntarily spending your money at Whole Foods is a major part of the solution to our healthcare problems. :
Recent scientific and medical evidence shows that a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most degenerative diseases that kill us and are expensive to treat. We should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age.
In the spirit of voluntary activity, why don’t people voluntarily refuse to spend a cent at a company run by someone who uses his position to attack healthcare for all. That’s called a boycott. Surely that’s the responsible response to a company whose CEO shows little respect for the needs of his fellow citizens while working so hard to keep the rest of us from having a decent healthcare system.
[For more on the Whole Foods boycott see here, and here.]
And now for some good news. A recent study finds major drops in mortality [dying] among those heart attack survivors who ate chocolate at least twice a week. Usually I caution about waiting for replication of research findings before acting on them. But in this case….
Chocolate ‘cuts death rate’ in heart attack survivors
By Marlowe Hood
PARIS (AFP) – Heart attack survivors who eat chocolate two or more times per week cut their risk of dying from heart disease about threefold compared to those who never touch the stuff, scientists have reported.
Smaller quantities confer less protection, but are still better than none, according to the study, which appears in the September issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine.
Earlier research had established a strong link between cocoa-based confections and lowered blood pressure or improvement in blood flow.
It had also shown that chocolate cuts the rate of heart-related mortality in healthy older men, along with post-menopausal women.
But the new study, led by Imre Janszky of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is the first to demonstrate that consuming chocolate can help ward off the grim reaper if one has suffered acute myocardial infarction — otherwise known as a heart attack.
“It was specific to chocolate — we found no benefit to sweets in general,” said Kenneth Mukamal, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and a co-author of the study.
“It seems that antioxidants in cocoa are a likely candidate” for explaining the live-saving properties, he told AFP in an exchange of e-mails.
Antioxidants are compounds that protect against so-called free radicals, molecules which accumulate in the body over time that can damage cells and are thought to play a role in heart disease, cancer and the aging process.
In the study, Janszky and colleagues tracked 1,169 non-diabetic men and women, 45-to-70 years old, in Stockholm County during the early 1990s from the time they were hospitalised with their first-ever heart attack.
The participants were queried before leaving hospital on their food consumption habits over the previous year, including how much chocolate they ate on a regular basis.
They underwent a health examination three months after discharge, and were monitored for eight years after that. The incidence of fatal heart attacks correlated inversely with the amount of chocolate consumed.
“Our findings support increasing evidence that chocolate is a rich source of beneficial bioactive compounds,” the researchers concluded.
The results held true for men and women, and across all the age groups included in the study.
Other factors that might have affected the outcome — alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking — were also taken into account.
So should we all be loading up on cocoa-rich sweets?
“To be frank, I’m pretty cautious about chocolate because we’re working on weight problems with so many individuals,” said Mukamal, who is also a practising physician.
“However, I do encourage those who are looking for healthier desserts to consider chocolate in small quantities,” he said.
“For individuals with no weight issues who have been able to eat chocolate in moderation and remain slim, I do not limit it,” he added.
The researchers caution that clinical trials are needed to back up the findings of their study.
In the meantime, however, a bit of chocolate may not be amiss, they suggest.
During the American Psychological Association Convention in Toronto last week, Jancis Long, made her last act while President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility [PsySR]. That act was to resign her 30-year membership in the APA. In this resignation she joins many other distinguished psychologists, including Ken Pope, the former chair of the APA Ethics Committee; Bryant Welch, the founding Executive Director of the APA’s Practice Directorate; and Beth Shinn, former President of several APA divisions, among hundreds of others.
Dr. James Bray, President
Dr. Stephen Behnke, Ethics Director
American Psychological Association
First Street NE, Washington DC 20002
Dear Drs. Bray and Behnke:
This is to let you know that I am resigning today from APA. I have been a member since around 1980, and would have expected to continue for many more years. I am resigning now because of the decision of the Ethics Committee in June to postpone indefinitely rewording Ethics Code 1.02 and 1.03, and the agreement of the Board to let this go out as APA policy. This decision came four years after the Council of Representatives had requested the Ethics Committee to consider revisions to these items, now termed the APA’s “Nuremberg Defense” clauses. The recent developments of the Substitute Motion and apparent commitment to reopen the Ethics Committee’s decision (to be handled, presumably, by the same body that delayed a decision for four years, and decided against revision two months ago) with a reporting date six months hence, to me do not mitigate the June decisions taken at the highest levels of APA. “Too little, too late, too slow” remains my opinion.
Although I have been deeply disturbed over the past four years at learning of APA’s policy toward psychologists’ involvement with torture and mistreatment of illegally held foreign prisoners, I have not resigned before because I do not expect either people or institutions to be perfect, and am well aware that positive social change is often complicated and shockingly slow. I also recognize that APA performs many services to psychologists, psychology and social wellbeing. But the decisions in June told me that APA is no longer a place for a responsible humanitarian psychologist.
I write you this on the last day of my Presidency of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. I shall continue as an active psychologist, and will add the sad lessons I have learned from APA in my teaching and activism.
Jancis Long Ph.D.
President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility
On his blog, Todd Essig describes his personal involvement in analyzing the American Psychological Association’s PENS [Psychological Ethics and National Security] task force listserv documents. The conclusion of his analysis:
The APA leadership controlled the Task Force process and the agenda. They got just the result they wanted to get.
The whole article:
Organized psychology also to blame for well-intentioned torture: A personal story
By Todd Essig
An article in the NY Times today, titled INTERROGATION INC.: 2 U.S. Architects of Harsh Tactics in 9/11’s Wake can leave the false impressions that a pair of renegade psychologists were solely responsible for our collective involvement in torture. The article leaves out how organized psychology was fully complicit in perpetuating this evil, evil done in our name.
The article tells the compelling story of Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, a couple of renegades motivated by greed who
… had psychology credentials and an intimate knowledge of a brutal treatment regimen used decades ago by Chinese Communists. For an administration eager to get tough on those who had killed 3,000 Americans, that was enough.
Motivated by a desire to cash-in on military careers spent training American military how to survive, evade, resist, and escape (SERE) from “unscrupulous foes” they reverse engineered SERE techniques for use by American interrogators. They became highly-paid consultants who dragged us down to the level of the most unscrupulous. The article notes that
At the SERE graduate school, Dr. Jessen is remembered for an unusual job switch, from supervising psychologist to mock enemy interrogator.
Dr. Jessen became so aggressive in that role that colleagues intervened to rein him in, showing him videotape of his “pretty scary” performance, another official recalled.
They sure seem like bad guys, which I believe the record shows they were. But they did not act alone. The American Psychological Association (my APA!) was fully complicit in torturing prisoners.
A grass-roots referendum did pass last year specifically stating that it is a violation of basic professional ethics to work in a setting in which basic human rights are not protected. But it has yet to be implemented. Today, many dedicated psychologists are still trying to get the APA leadership to effect the reforms necessary to protect psychology’s honor and prevent sanctioning future violations of inviolate human rights.
The fight goes on. And it is a fight that had an interesting start, a start about which I have a personal story to tell.
In the Spring of 2006, I have no record of the exact date, I got a call from Steven Reisner, who has been a leader in the fight against torture from the beginning. Last year Reisner ran as a reform candidate for APA President but he unfortunately did not win. He and I had been students together 20 years earlier doing research requiring linguistic analyses of psychotherapy session transcripts. More recently, for the past 10 years or so, he had been a member of an online community for mental health professionals that I ran. These details are important because these details are why he called me; he knew I knew my away around both transcripts and email/listservs.
He made a request in hushed conspiritorial tones. Jean Maria Arigo, one of the members of the APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) had become suspcious that the supposedly independent task force had been anything but. Rather than a debate about the role professional psychology can and should have in national security issues, the more she thought about it the more it seemed like the PENS Task Force was an elaborate set-up designed to quell public dissatisfaction and support APA authorities.
They wanted me to take a look at the listserv transcripts and see what, if anything, the data actually showed. But there was a confidentiality rule in place supposedly to protect the military members of the Task Force. Reisner wanted to know if I’d be willing to do the analysis anyway. Arrigo now believes, as she told me today “that the PENS confidentiality agreement was not binding because it was secured in a context of many undisclosed conflicts of interest. For example, the Director of the APA Practice Directorate, Russ Newman, whose wife was a BSCT psychologist, led the agenda of the PENS meeting” (note: BSCT stands for behavioral science consultation team, i.e., the psychologists who work with the interrogators). By now, the full transcripts have been posted on the propublica.org website for all to see.
I agreed to do the analysis, but asked them to keep my name off the documents. I was willing to provide some of the ammunition they would need in the battle ahead, but I decided not to got to the front lines with them.
I analyzed the first month of postings on the listserv and found ample support for Jean Maria’s sense that the Task Force was not independent of APA authorities. Then APA President Gerald Koocher, who was supposed to be in a quiet observers role, was clearly in the leadership role structuring the conversation and stifling dissent from the party line as espoused by the military members of the Task Force. The APA leadership controlled the Task Force process and the agenda. They got just the result they wanted to get.
The positive side to the story is that people like Reisner and Arrigo, and many others, are continuing to keep the pressure on the APA for long delayed reform that will bring organized psychology closer to the ethics of most of the membership.
Psychologist and political commentator Drew Westin expresses the disquiet of many with the Obama administration’s failures to live up to their fine rhetoric:
Change We Can Believe In: Feelings Toward the Administration by Those Who Elected It
By Drew Westen
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been hearing rumblings. They’re not from the staged or misinformed protestors at town hall meetings who have decided that shouting down a member of Congress is their right as American citizens. They’re not from “the left” — that wild, unruly group of bloggers and Birkenstockers the White House has called on repeatedly, both in public and in private, to be quiet.
They’re from the parent who came to pick up her daughter after a play date with my five-year-old, as we stood in the door chatting. They’re from my cousin, a family doctor, who called me when he heard about Big Pharma’s sweetheart deal with the White House to prevent negotiations on the cost of prescription drugs. They’re from a guy I sat next to on a plane this week who doesn’t follow politics all that closely but follows closely enough to know that bankers seems to be getting bonuses as homeowners are getting foreclosure notices.
These people aren’t “raving liberals.” Most of them haven’t even gotten word yet that they’re supposed to call themselves progressives (and none of them knew the secret progressive handshake). They’re ordinary voters who either sometimes or reliably vote Democratic, who were members of the Obama majority in 2008 and were convinced that this time their vote really mattered. Now they’re disillusioned.
They can see the economic upturn. They see the Dow rising. They know that corporate profits are no longer in a free-fall. But they can also see that those profits are rising as their own company is considering another round of layoffs — and that those two facts are not unrelated. And what they feel summarizes what they see: where before they had hope, now they feel primarily frustration and resentment.
As one of these people recently said to me, the cadence of Obama’s speeches that used to give her shivers is now starting to grate on her nerves.
I knew just what she meant. I first had that feeling when I watched the President’s speech in Africa. This time, superimposed on my usual response to Obama’s eloquence (and his willingness to speak directly to people who American presidents have often failed even to notice) was a different feeling — anger — and a very different thought: What’s he doing in Africa when the tide of public opinion is turning on health care reform back home? Africa will be there in 3 months. Public sentiment for genuine reform — not a Botox bill, which will momentarily cover up the wrinkles in the pained face of our health care system long enough for a smiling Rose Garden ceremony — may not.
A disquieting pattern seems to be emerging. When the President put in charge of our financial system a man who had led the New York Fed during a period of extraordinary Wall Street corruption and another who had helped dismantle protections against it, many of us scratched our heads in confusion. When he traded off billions in stimulus money that would have prevented precisely the cuts states are making today — laying off workers and slashing essential programs, which runs counter to the whole point of the stimulus package — for the same kind of tax cuts that ballooned the deficit during the Bush years, many of us thought he was just a really bad poker player. But he was playing solitaire, with no one on the other side of the table. We figured every President is entitled to his early mistakes.
But then came the news about the new law designed to protect consumers from credit card companies raising their rates. The President described how Americans had had enough of the fine print. But one provision seemed awfully odd: a 10-month grace period for credit card companies to “adjust” to the new legislation and make whatever changes they wanted in the meantime. You normally don’t give burglars your vacation schedule in advance so they have time to “adjust.”
Then the reports started to come in from ordinary Americans who were seeing their interest rates hit the roof — applied retroactively to money they had borrowed before the recession hit or they lost their jobs.
I got my own letter today:
Important Account Price Change Notification
We are raising your Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on purchases and cash advances.
We are raising the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on any balances that have a penalty rate because of a late payment.
We are increasing the late fee.
It was very thoughtful of them to tell me. But I was surprised the letter didn’t say how much the new rates would be. I looked for a second page, but there wasn’t one. Then I flipped it over, and there it was — in fine print.
So the President and Congress passed a new law protecting consumers from predatory lending practices and credit-card fine print, but they gave the credit card companies a grace period during which they could raise the rates and put them in the fine print. Funny, I don’t remember a similar grace period for homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages. Couldn’t we have had a homeowners’ equivalent of the student loan program, through which the federal government would give homeowners no-interest loans for a couple of years to get them through the tough times so they don’t lose their homes, particularly when the unemployment rate is near 10 percent because somebody else gambled with their incomes and assets, instead of giving banks zero-interest loans and allowing them to charge usurious rates on existing debt?
Of the millions of Americans who are receiving letters like this every day, I happen to be one of the lucky ones. I don’t carry a balance on my credit cards, my home is still worth more than my mortgage, and I still have a job. But if Americans are starting to turn populist anger toward a White House that has doggedly refused to focus that anger where it belongs — toward the banks, the mortgage brokers, the regulators who failed to regulate, the oil companies that have blocked energy reform for decades while racking up record profits, the health insurance companies that make their profits by denying coverage and discriminating against the ill, the pharmaceutical companies whose lobbyists have negotiated away the right to negotiate, and the Republicans who bankrupted the treasury during the eight long years of the Bush Presidency and crashed the economy on their way out — I can understand why.
The American people did not vote for “bipartisan” solutions that split the difference between the failed ideology of the last eight years, which continues to cost thousands of people their jobs and homes every day, and the change the President and the super-majorities they elected in both houses of Congress promised.
Drew Westen, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University, founder of Westen Strategies, and author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.”
The Oregonian editorializes on the American Psychological Association’s relationship with US torture and detainee abuse. It contains perhaps the strongest condemnation of the APA so far:
A shadow has fallen on the profession, and the APA — and rightfully so.
The complete editorial:
Psychologists linked to Bush-era torture cast the profession in a bad light
By Editorial Board, The Oregonian New details about the work of two psychologists after Sept. 11
raise questions about the American Psychological Association, too
You already know that the Constitution was mangled after Sept. 11, and that Bush-administration lawyers stretched U.S. law beyond recognition to rationalize torture. Less well known is the contribution two psychologists made to brutal interrogations.
On Wednesday, The New York Times showed how the two psychologists — both military retirees — became architects and early overseers of the Central Intelligence Agency’s harsh interrogation techniques.
To be fair, the two seem to have been infected by the same group-think panic that affected others within the administration. Said The Times:
Col. Steven M. Kleinman, an Air Force interrogator and intelligence officer who knows (the two psychologists), said he thought loyalty to their country in the panicky wake of the Sept. 11 attacks prompted their excursion into interrogation.He said the result was a tragedy for the country, and for them. “I feel their primary motivation was they thought they had skills and insights that would make the nation safer,” Colonel Kleinman said. “But good persons in extreme circumstances can do horrific things.”
What the newspaper did not touch on is the criticism, internal soul-searching and disgust within the psychology profession prompted by the role these two played. The American Psychological Association itself has come in for considerable criticism, often from its own members, because the APA failed to distance itself, early on, from the chilling notion that it was OK for psychologists to oversee military interrogations.
The rationalization has been that “24″-style situations would be even worse if psychologists weren’t around to put the brakes on. Some have said that the real fear, within the profession, was of limiting job opportunities within the military and chances for federal grants.
But no matter what the motivation, it’s pretty hard to understand how psychologists could ever countenance harsh interrogation techniques, like waterboarding, that qualify as torture. The ground-breaking experiments that psychologists have done, illuminating the tendency for humans to inflict pain on other humans when asked to do so by an authority figure, ought to have pointed the profession in the opposite direction.
In totalitarian countries, there’s a long history of “mental health” practitioners being entertwined with thought-controls and imprisonment. And this history should have made psychologists wary, as well. A chilling echo of this reverberates in the details about the psychologists, who seem to have set the dosage of discomfort for captives, and may have helped to ease the consciences of the people involved by giving harsh techniques a stamp of approval.
A shadow has fallen on the profession, and the APA — and rightfully so.
During last week’s American Psychological Association convention in Toronto, the APA’s President James Bray received a letter from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak. The letter declared that, in Dr. Nowak’s professional opinion, the Guantanamo detention facility is still in violation of international law. It therefore asked the APA to follow its own policy, as expressed in a member-passed referendum last September, and request removal of psychologists from Guantanamo. It further asked the APA to remove its infamous standard 1.02, which built the Nuremberg “just following orders” Defense into the APA’s ethics code.
Here is a Press Release issued Saturday by the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, of which I’m a member. The Press Release is followed by Nowak’s letter:
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Calls on American Psychological Association to Withdraw Psychologists from Guantánamo Detention Camp
Coalition for an Ethical Psychology demands APA comply with international law, medical ethics and its own policy prohibiting participation in human rights violations
August 8, 2009, Toronto — In a letter to the American Psychological Association, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, warns that psychologists’ continued presence at Guantánamo Bay and similar detention settings violates international law, medical ethics, and APA’s own policy on psychologists and human rights. Dr. Nowak’s letter, issued during the association’s annual convention in Toronto, calls for both the removal of psychologists from those settings and for changes in the APA ethics code, which currently allows psychologists to follow military orders even if these conflict with medical ethics or human rights.
In 2008 the APA membership overwhelmingly approved a referendum prohibiting psychologists from working at sites that violate international law, specifically referencing the standards of the United Nations. In the wake of the letter from the UN Rapporteur, the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology echoed Dr. Nowak’s call for APA leadership to immediately implement the member-ratified policy.
“Given the crisis arising from Nowak’s findings, the APA leadership must act immediately to implement the members’ wishes as expressed in the referendum and call for the removal of psychologists from Guantánamo and othersettings which remain outside of international law. Otherwise the APA and the profession of psychology risk further damage,” stated Stephen Soldz, co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology and President-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.
In his letter, Nowak states clearly that, by UN standards, “the overall conditions of detention at Guantanamo Bay continue to be outside of international law.” He goes on to state, “it is incumbent upon the APA to ensure that its standards comport with international law as well as the UN Principles of Medical Ethics [which] require an absolute ethical prohibition of psychologists’ presence or involvement in these operations.” As an accredited non-governmental organization at the United Nations, the APA is mandated to uphold United Nations standards; otherwise that status may be jeopardized.
Nowak’s letter comes in response to APA’s continued failure to prohibit psychologists’ participation in detainee interrogations and conditions, even after recently released Justice Department memos, Senate and Defense Department reports have confirmed that psychologists played crucial roles in helping to design, implement, and provide training for the Bush administration program of detainee abuse and torture.
“Even today, long after the end of the Bush administration, detainees continue to be held in abusive conditions and psychologists continue to lend their expertise to legitimize these abuses,” said Steven Reisner, advisor on Psychological Ethics for Physicians for Human Rights and a co-founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. “It is time to investigate and hold to account both the psychologists who devised and implemented the Bush administration programs of abuse and torture, and the APA for continued support of these psychologists, even after their essential role in the torture program was exposed.”
The Coalition further calls upon the APA to inform psychologists serving at Guantanamo and Bagram Air Base that they are serving in violation of APA policy.
As Nowak stated in his letter:
“Every day that you delay the referendum is another day where psychologists are, by their presence and participation in these operations, acquiescing in human rights violations. Following the APA’s own policy, on the other hand, would send a message that the health professionals maintain the highest ethical standards, refuse to participate in such violations, and do their part, with the support of their professional leadership, to bring these abuses and violations to an end.”
The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology is an organization committed to putting psychology on firm ethical foundation. It has been at the forefront of the efforts to change APA’s policies regarding detainee abuse.
Here is Nowak’s letter:
Dear President Bray,
In 2007, the American Psychological Association’s Council of Representatives passed a ‘Resolution against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment.’ That resolution states:
[T]he American Psychological Association is an accredited non-governmental organization at the United Nations and so is committed to promote and protect human rights in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…[and] consistent with international human rights instruments, as well as guidelines developed for health professionals, including but not limited to: Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions; The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; The United Nations Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, particularly Physicians, in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and The World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo: Guidelines for Physicians Concerning Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Relation to Detention and Imprisonment.
This was followed by a referendum passed overwhelmingly by the APA membership and approved as APA policy by Council in February 2009. The referendum states, in part:
Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Mental Health and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have determined that treatment equivalent to torture has been taking place at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba….Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.
Clearly, the APA takes its obligations as an accredited NGO at the United Nations and its responsibilities to follow international instruments regarding the treatment of detainees and the ethical guidelines for health professionals seriously.
This is why I am writing to you now – to inform you that I consider the very fact that detainees have been and still are kept at Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, to constitute arbitrary detention and, therefore a violation of Article 9 ICCPR. It is definitely good news that these facilities are going to be closed at the latest by January 2010, and that the conditions of detention have certainly improved. Nevertheless, force feeding of hunger strikers with cruel methods is continuing, and I am very concerned about the mental conditions of some of the long term detainees. Apart from sporadic visits by the ICRC and their lawyers, the detainees have been in total isolation from their families and the outside world for many years, and they are kept in total uncertainty about the length of their detention. Together with the rough physical treatment and past practice of torture I certainly conclude that the overall conditions of detention at Guantanamo Bay constitutes to be “outside, or in violation of, international law”.
Given the now public record of psychologists’ involvement in the design, supervision, implementation, and legitimization of a regime of physical and psychological torture at US military and intelligence facilities, including Guantánamo, it is incumbent upon the APA to ensure that its standards comport with international law as well as the UN Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Role of Health Personnel. These instruments require an absolute ethical prohibition of psychologists’ presence or involvement in these operations.
Thus, in keeping with both the APA’s own policy and relevant international law and ethical guidelines, I request that you do all that is necessary to:
a) invoke the referendum and immediately request that the Obama administration, the Department of Defense, and the US intelligence agencies remove psychologists from Guantánamo and any other sites where international law is being violated or where inspectors are prohibited from assessing that conditions are in compliance with international law.
b) Amend the APA ethics code (standards 1.02 and 1.03) where it permits psychologists to follow domestic law and military orders and regulations even when these conflict with international law, the United Nations Principles of Medical Ethics and the APA’s own ethics code.
Every day that you delay invoking the referendum is another day where psychologists are, by their presence and participation in these operations, acquiescing in human rights violations. Following the APA’s own policy, on the other hand, would send a message that health professionals maintain the highest ethical standards, refuse to participate in such violations, and do their part, with the support of their professional leadership, to bring these abuses and violations to an end.
Univ.-Prof. Dr. Manfred Nowak, LL.M.
Professor for International Human Rights, University of Vienna
Director, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
There were two major events at the American Psychological Association in Toronto last week relevant to the interrogations-torture issue. The first event, discussed in this post, is that two human rights groups, the Center for Constitutional Rights [CCR] and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ), jointly called on the Canadian government to initiate an investigation of certain participants in the APA Convention for possible involvement in torture or war crimes in the “war on terror.” In particular they focused upon Col. Larry James and his actions during his time as a senior member of the Guantanamo Behavioral Science Consultation Team [BSCT] in January to May, 2003.
To accompany their letter to the Canadian Minister of Public Safety, CCR prepared a background document supporting their call for an investigation. Tis document combines James’ claim in his book Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib, that he was a central figure in interrogation policy at Guantanamo during his tenure with extensive evidence that numerous abuses occurred during the time that James claims to have been in charge. Given James’ claims in his book and the documentary record, only three possibilities are reasonable. (1) James is telling the truth about his command responsibility and is thus responsible for terrible abuses that deserve investigation; (2) James is lying about his important role at the detention facility; or (3) James is lying about his role and is also responsible for or complicit in severe abuses. Only an investigation can determine which of these possibilities is the most accurate.
The one possibility that is inconsistent with all other evidence is that, as he claimed, James played a major role in ending abuses at Guantanamo as systematic abuses often amounting to torture continued long after his 2003 deployment there.
At the PA Convention last week, Col. James assumed his duties as the elected President of the association’s division of Military Psychology. Evidently, while others within the military are confronting and repudiating abuses committed against detainees, the military psychologists so far maintain the fiction that such abuses had nothing to do with their members. How any one of them can read Col. James’ book and take his claims of Fixing Hell seriously is beyond me. For those claims to be true, the Red Cross, the FBI, the Defense Department Inspector General and the Senate Armed Services Committee must all be lying or massively deceived, as essentially James suggests his book. One can only hope that the honorable military psychologists will eventually join their JAG and interrogator colleagues in vigorously repudiating any involvement in the dark side and stop protecting those of their colleagues who acted dishonorably.
Here is a press release from CCR on their call for an investigation as well as on court action by Dr. Trudy Bond to attempt to force the Louisiana psychology licensing board to investigate her complaint of possible involvement in detainee abuses by Col. James. The Board had previously refused to investigate, as did the APA Ethics Committee when confronted with a similar complaint by Dr. Bond. Following the press release is the CCR/CCIJ letter to the Canadian Minister of Public Safety.
Rights Groups Call on Canada to Investigate Guantanamo Psychologist for Possible Torture Complicity
Legal Battle Continues Against Louisiana Psychology Board for Refusing to Investigate Professional Misconduct Allegations Against Dr. Larry James
August 6, 2009, Ottawa and New York– Human rights organizations are calling on the Canadian government to investigate retired U.S. Army colonel and psychologist Dr. Larry C. James, a former high-ranking advisor on interrogations for the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay. According to his own statements, Dr. James played an influential role in both the policy and day-to-day operations of interrogations and detention at the base. Publicly-available information suggests that while Dr. James was at Guantanamo in the spring of 2003, abuse in interrogations was widespread and cruel treatment was official policy.
Responding to reports that he would travel to Toronto this week, the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sent a joint letter yesterday to Canada’s Minister of Public Safety requesting an investigation into whether Dr. James had a role in war crimes or torture at Guantanamo Bay in 2003. Dr. James, who currently serves as the President of the American Psychological Association’s Division 19 for Military Psychology is expected to attend the APA’s Convention beginning today in Toronto.
Also today, a motion for appeal was filed in Louisiana, in the case Dr. Trudy Bond v. Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists (LSBEP). In compliance with her ethical obligation to report abuse by other psychologists, Dr. Bond, a Toledo-based psychologist, filed a complaint against Dr. James before the LSBEP, the agency that issued and now regulates his psychology license. Dr. Bond alleged that Dr. James breached professional ethics by violating psychologists’ duties to obtain informed consent, to protect confidential information and to do no harm. As Chief Psychologist of the Joint Intelligence Group and a senior member of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) at Guantanamo, Dr. James had access to the confidential medical records of people he was charged with exploiting for intelligence. Reports issued after his departure alleged that BSCTs used information from patients’ records to help identify physical and mental vulnerabilities of detainees for the purposes of interrogation. Dr. James denies that claim.
Following the LSBEP’s summary dismissal of the complaint without investigation, Dr. Bond filed suit against the LSBEP in Louisiana’s 19th Judicial District Court, which dismissed her case last month. Today’s motion signals Dr. Bond’s intention to continue her pursuit of accountability at the state appellate level.
Allegations of abuse during Dr. James’ January to May 2003 deployment include beatings, religious and sexual humiliation, rape threats and painful body positions. Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is one of the prisoners who has alleged brutal treatment in the spring of 2003 when he was only 16 years old.
Based on this information, the CCIJ and CCR called on the Canadian government to investigate whether action should be taken against Dr. James or other attendees of the APA Convention who may have been involved in abuse of detainees.
The organizations have appealed to Canadian officials because the United States government, despite the change in administration, has failed to take proper steps to investigate people in positions of military, intelligence and political leadership who may have been involved in crimes related to the torture and abuse of detainees.
Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act gives the federal government power to prosecute war crimes regardless of where they were committed if the alleged perpetrator is later present in Canada. A similar provision of the Criminal Code applies to crimes of torture.
Said CCIJ Legal Coordinator Matt Eisenbrandt, “Any time there is credible information that someone on Canadian soil may have been involved in torture or war crimes, the Canadian government should investigate. The fact that a Canadian citizen says he was abused during the time Dr. James was at Guantanamo only makes the case stronger for the government to conduct a full inquiry into the evidence.”
Said CCR Fellow Deborah Popowski, “”The Louisiana Board should investigate Larry James to find out whether he hurt people using the license it issued him to heal. No one can afford to ignore evidence that a psychologist may have been complicit in torture. When politics trump the rule of law, everyone suffers: survivors of torture, the health profession, and all patients.”
James was also stationed in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 and returned to Guantanamo in 2007.
For more information on the involvement of health professionals in torture and abuse visit the Center for Constitutional Rights website www.whenhealersharm.org.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.
The Canadian Centre for International Justice/Centre Canadian pour la justice internationale (www.ccij.ca) is a charitable organization that works with survivors of genocide, torture and other atrocities to seek redress and bring perpetrators to justice.
Here is the CCR/CCIJ letter to the Canadian Minister of Public Safety.
The Honourable Peter Van Loan
Department of Public Safety Canada
269 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0P8
August 5, 2009
By fax: (613) 992-8351
Dear Minister Van Loan,
The Canadian Centre for International Justice and the Center for Constitutional Rights call on you to launch an investigation to determine whether visitors to Canada were complicit in war crimes and/or torture. Retired U.S. Army colonel and psychologist Dr. Larry C. James and others may be traveling to Canada this week to attend the American Psychological Association (APA) Convention in Toronto from August 6 to 9. Publicly-available information, summarized in the attached appendix, indicates that Dr. James, formerly a high-ranking advisor on interrogations for the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay, should be investigated to determine whether he was complicit in war crimes and/or torture. Faced with this information, the Canadian government has the authority and duty to investigate whether Dr. James acted in violation of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act and/or section 269.1 of the Criminal Code.
We note that a Canadian national, Omar Khadr, was among those tortured in Guantanamo during the time Dr. James was deployed as Chief Psychologist for the intelligence command at Guantanamo. Khadr has alleged two specific incidents of abusive treatment during interrogation in the spring of 2003, when Dr. James says he served at the detention facility.
The War Crimes Program, in which the Canadian government takes such rightful pride, is most needed in situations like this one, in which there is “no reasonable prospect of fair and real prosecution” (1) in the country that would otherwise be most likely to assume jurisdiction. We appeal to the Canadian government because the United States government, despite the change in administration, has failed to take proper steps to investigate those in positions of military, intelligence and political leadership who may have been involved in crimes in the so-called “War on Terror.”
Although the public has had difficulty gaining full access to all the relevant documentation, Freedom of Information Act litigation and a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee inquiry into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody (2) have yielded documents that shed light on the role of military intelligence psychologists. Additionally, Dr. James published his own account of his involvement in a 2008 book titled, Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib, (3) which covered his first deployment to Guantanamo in 2003 as well as his subsequent deployment to Iraq.
The publicly-available information from these documents shows that from January to May 2003, Dr. James served as Chief Psychologist and a senior member of the Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) of the Joint Intelligence Group at Guantanamo. (4) According to Dr. James’ own statements, outlined in the appendix, he played an influential role in interrogation and detention policy, procedure and practices at Guantanamo during his deployment. In this period, documents indicate that men and boys detained in Guantanamo were subjected to interrogation tactics and conditions of detention that amounted to torture or other forms of cruel,
inhuman or degrading treatment.
We believe Dr. James is likely to attend the conference because he has been elected president of the APA’s Division 19 for Military Psychology.5 We also suspect that other APA members who may have had a role in abusive interrogations in Guantanamo, Afghanistan or Iraq may travel to Canada.
The publicly-available documentation provides sufficient information to warrant further investigation about Dr. James and others who might attend the APA convention in Toronto. We call on you to launch such an investigation, through the War Crimes Program, to determine if sufficient evidence exists for action to be taken against them.
Center for Constitutional Rights
Canadian Centre for International Justice
Cc: William J.S. Elliott, Commissioner, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (by fax)
James Bray, President, American Psychological Association (by fax)
2 S. Rep.INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY (Nov. 20, 2008) [hereinafter SASC Report (Nov. 20, 2008)].
3 Larry C. James, Fixing Hell: An Army Psychologist Confronts Abu Ghraib (2008) [hereinafter Fixing Hell].
4 Dr. James returned to Guantanamo in 2007, and he also served as Director of the Behavioral Science Unit, Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib in 2004. Although the evidence presented in this letter relates to Dr. James’ 2003 deployment, additional information may exist that would warrant further inquiry into these other roles.