Wanda Sykes is upset with Obama:
“If Obama keeps it up like this, he’s gonna really mess it up for the next black President in 3008.”
December 7th, 2009
Wanda Sykes is upset with Obama:
“If Obama keeps it up like this, he’s gonna really mess it up for the next black President in 3008.”
December 7th, 2009
A new Seton Hall study, described by Scott Horton in Huffington Post, raises serious questions about the deaths, in June 2006, of three Guantanamo detainees. The deaths were attributed to suicide or “asymetric warfare” by the military. The Seton Hall study shows that the data in the Navy Criminal Investigative Service’s own report flatly contradicts the conclusion of suicide. Is there a cover-up of incompetence? Or of murder?
Here is Horton on the study:
Law School Study Finds Evidence Of Cover-Up After Three Alleged Suicides At Guantanamo In 2006
By Scott Horton
On the night of June 9-10 in 2006, three prisoners held at the Guantánamo prison’s Camp Delta died under mysterious circumstances. Military authorities responded by quickly ordering media representatives off the island and blocking lawyers from meeting with their clients. The first official military statements declared the deaths not just suicides — but actually went so far as to describe them as acts of “asymmetrical warfare” against the United States.
Now a 58-page study prepared by law faculty and students at Seton Hall University in New Jersey starkly challenges the Pentagon’s claims. It notes serious and unresolved contradictions within a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) report — which was publicly released only in fragmentary form, two years after the fact — and declares the military’s internal investigation an obvious cover-up. The only question is: of what?
Law Professor Mark Denbeaux, who directed the study, said in an interview that “there are two possibilities here. Either the investigation is a cover-up of gross dereliction of duty, or it is a cover-up of something far more chilling. More than three years later we do not know what really happened.” (Read a Q&A with Denbeaux: “‘The Most Innocent Explanation Is That This Is Gitmo Meets Lord Of The Flies’”.)
The new study exposes how the NCIS report purports that all three prisoners on the prison’s Alpha Block did the following to commit suicide:
• Braided a noose by tearing up their sheets and/or clothing.
• Made mannequins of themselves so it would appear to the guards they were asleep in their cells.
• Hung sheets to block the view into the cells.
• Stuffed rags down their own throats well past a point which would have induced involuntary gagging.
• Tied their own feet together.
• Tied their own hands together.
• Hung the noose from the metal mesh of the cell wall and/or ceiling.
• Climbed up on to the sink, put the noose around their necks and release their weight, resulting in death by strangulation.
The study also notes that there has never been any explanation of how the three bodies could have hung in the cells, undiscovered, for at least two hours, when the cells were supposed to be under constant supervision by roving guards and video cameras.
Disturbingly, these facts were collected within the NCIS report — but without discussion or any effort to make conclusions based on them. Was that because the facts did not fit the conclusions that military leaders had already offered the public and that the investigators were therefore struggling to support — namely that the prisoners committed suicide? It is not even clear that it would be physically possible for the prisoners to commit suicide consistent with these facts.
One of the Seton Hall study’s authors, law student and former sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division Paul W. Taylor, stated: “We have three bodies and no explanation. How is it possible that all three detainees had shoved rags so far down their own throats that medical personnel could not remove them? One of the dead detainees was scheduled for release from Guantanamo Bay in 19 days. Instead he died in custody.”
The Seton Hall study concludes that the NCIS investigators made conclusions completely unsupported by facts. For instance, they concluded that the three prisoners committed suicide as part of a “conspiracy.” But, according to the study: “The investigations… fail to present any evidence of a conspiracy. In fact, all other evidence is inconsistent with the conclusion that the detainees conspired.”
The Seton Hall study also faults the manner in which military investigators proceeded. “There is reason to suspect that the [NCIS] interviewers designed questions to obtain particular results. The interviewers failed to frame their inquiries neutrally.” Moreover, by June 14, 2006, military investigators had informed all four guards assigned to Alpha Block that night, the Alpha Block noncommissioned officer, and the Alpha Block platoon leader that they were suspected of making false official statements and/or failing to obey direct orders. This suggests that NCIS investigators believed they were being consciously misled on key issues. But amazingly, when the final report issued, no disciplinary measures of any sort were recommended.
There was also a large amount of evidence which should have been assembled as a matter of routine, but which is missing from the NCIS report, the new study explains.. Most disturbing is the absence of sworn statements, which should have been prepared immediately after the events in question and then been turned over to investigators. In this case, however, it appears that affected personnel were actually ordered not to prepare such statements. Instead, the Seton Hall study notes that “the Commander assembled three or four of the Alpha guards aside to put together ‘the series of events,’ and he spoke with each of them for approximately four or five minutes.” Amazingly, the military investigation makes no effort to ascertain what was said or done during this meeting at which an effort was evidently made to coordinate accounts.
A videotape of the hallway and common area existed, but is not taken into account in the report. Similarly, no effort appears to have been made to examine radio and telephone communications. Other critical records, including the missing Duty Roster, Detainee Transfer Book and Pass-On Book also do not appear in the report.
When the NCIS report was finally released, it was redacted so heavily as to make it almost incomprehensible. More than a third of the pages were fully redacted, and very few pages were released without some redaction. The NCIS report itself is highly disorganized, without an index or even a chronological progression in its recounting of events. All this appears intended to make review and criticism of the report much more difficult. While the redaction of names of service personnel is appropriate, it is difficult to understand why many other redactions were undertaken.
Human Rights Watch is calling for the release of the unredacted NCIS report. HRW’s Joanne Mariner stated, in response to a request for comment, that “the heavy-handed nature of the redactions to the publicly-released reports of the investigations makes it impossible to get a clear picture of the events of that night. We think that the heavy redactions currently found in the documents — by which names, dates, and other key facts are completely obscured on many pages — raise concerns about whether the military is trying to hide embarrassing facts.”
The Seton Hall study also points to a large number of violations of Guantánamo’s standard operating procedures that appear in the investigation, many of which are linked directly to the deaths. Although the NCIS investigation flags many of these violations, no disciplinary action of any sort was taken. The Seton Hall study sees evidence of a “camp in disarray.” Professor Denbeaux notes “guards not on duty, detainees hanging dead in their cells for hours and guards leaving their posts to eat the detainees’ leftover food.” He sees the failure to take disciplinary measures as further evidence of a cover-up. Denbeaux stresses that his review not only leaves serious doubt as to the military’s conclusions that the deaths were suicides, it also exposes gross misconduct by camp guards and others that went undisciplined.
The study is the eleventh in a series of reports by the Seton Hall Law School examining issues related to the detention regime at Guantanamo and establishing that a number of Pentagon claims about Guantanamo and the prisoners held there are pure myths. One earlier report established that over 80% of the prisoners were captured not by Americans on the battlefield but by Pakistanis and Afghans, often in exchange for bounty payments. Another demonstrated that the Guantanamo Combat Status Review Tribunals consistently failed to follow their own rules and were frequently convened for purposes of overturning determinations made by earlier tribunals that prisoners were not enemy combatants. Another debunked Bush Administration claims denying the existence of tapes of prisoner interrogations, and demonstrated that 24,000 such tapes were made, together with extensive notes based on them.
This latest study comes shortly after the resignation of the Obama Administration’s two top officials responsible for detainee issues: White House counsel Greg Craig and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Phil Carter.
A senior Pentagon official, asked about the report on Sunday, did not have an immediate response, but said one might be forthcoming. This post will be updated if and when the Pentagon has a statement.
December 7th, 2009
Several public accounts of abusive interrogations at Guantanamo have praised psychologist Dr. Michael Gelles for his opposition to these abuses. Similarly, the American Psychological Association (APA) has repeatedly pointed to actions of Dr. Gelles to instantiate their claim that psychologists played a crucial role in opposing abuses and protecting detainees. Gelles also has been a regular public presence, discussing the errors at Guantanamo while advocating for the APA’s “policy of participation” in interrogations. The APA policy encourages psychologists to aid interrogations to keep them “safe, legal, ethical, and effective.” But a recently released Defense Department document challenges Dr. Gelles’s role as an exemplar of psychological ethics in interrogations.
As reported by Bill Dedman, Phillipe Sands, and Jane Mayer, Gelles objected to the “harsh” interrogation tactics being used at Guantanamo. In particular, he strenuously objected to the plans to “reverse engineer” the tactics used by the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program to inculcate strategies for resistance to torture in US service members at high risk for capture.
In November 2002, the military planned to use these SERE-based techniques on prisoner 063, Mohammed al Qahtani, one of several US captives dubbed the “20th hijacker.” Gelles and colleagues from the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF), the FBI, and other agencies proposed an alternative interrogation plan for al Qahtani, one that did not involve use of SERE techniques. This plan was rejected. Instead, al-Qahtani was subjected to an interrogation that met the legal definition of “torture,” according to Bush Administration appointee Susan Crawford, convener of the Guantanamo Military Commissions. [Phillipe Sands detailed the development of the al-Qahtani torture plan in his book, The Torture Team, an extract from which was published in Vanity Fair. Sands also describes the alternate CITF/FBI plan as written by "Gelles' team" (p. 130).] Gelles reported his concerns regarding use of SERE techniques and the al-Qahtani interrogation up the chain of command, leading Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora to protest and force at least temporary change in official interrogation policy in early 2003.
A few weeks ago, in response to an ACLU’s years-long Freedom of Information Act Request, the alternative interrogation plan for al-Qahtani was quietly released, apparently unnoticed between other documents on FBI and CITF concerns about Guantanamo practices. According to the alternative plan document, it was drafted:
“by representatives of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), and behavioral specialists, psychiatrists and psychologists with the Criminal Investigation Task Force (ClTF).”
Given the prominent roles of mental health professionals in its drafting, the alternative “rapport-based” plan should be examined for consistency with Gelles’ and the other authors’ ethical responsibilities as psychologists and psychiatrists.
At the time the plan was written, on November 22, 2002, al-Qahtani had been in isolation for three months and was exhibiting signs of severe mental deterioration to the extent of psychosis. An FBI agent described this deterioration in a report to headquarters:
“In September or October of 2002 FBI agents observed that a canine was used in an aggressive manner to intimidate detainee __ after he had been subjected to intense isolation for over three months. During that time period, __ was totally isolated (with the exception of occasional interrogations) in a cell that was always flooded with light. By late November, the detainee was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in the corner of a cell covered with a sheet for hours on end).”
Gelles and the other authors on the CITF/FBI interrogation plan also noticed his psychological distress:
“#63′s behavior has changed significantly during his three months of isolation. He spends much of his day covered by a sheet, either crouched in the corner of his cell or hunched on his knees on top of his bed. These behaviors appear to be unrelated to his praying activities. His cell has no exterior windows, and because it is continuously lit, he is prevented from orientating himself as to time of day. Recently, he was observed by a hidden video camera having conversations with non-existent people. During his last interview on 11/17/02, he reported hearing unusual sounds which he believes are evil spirits, including Satan.”
After discussing whether al-Qahtani was faking his symptoms, without coming to a conclusion, the interrogation plan proposed exploiting al-Qahtani’s distress from his prolonged isolation:
“Although we are uncertain as to his mental status and recommend a mental evaluation be conducted, there is little doubt that #63 is hungry for human interaction. Our plan is designed to exploit this need and to create an environment in which it [is] easier for #63 to please the interviewer with whom he has come to have complete trust and dependence thus developing a motivation to be forthright and cooperative in providing reliable information.”
In order to exploit this hunger for human contact, the CITF/FBI plan recommended that he be kept in continued isolation for up to an additional year:
“The long-term strategy would be to create an environment in which total dependence and trust between #63 and the interviewer is established at its own pace. Such a plan should be given up to a year to complete although the actual time may be considerably shorter depending on how events unfold.”
Al-Qahtani’s hunger for human contact would be exploited by making his interrogator the only person he saw over this year:
“To help foster an environment conducive to the establishment of dependence and trust, we propose that the interviewer initially meet with #63 every other day. This should be his only contact with other people, and we believe he will anxiously look forward to these meetings.”
It was recommended that al-Qahtani be periodically subjected to additional stresses so that his interrogator could become his savior:
“Built into this plan will be periodic stressors such as the stripping of certain items of comfort from him by guards, such as the removal of his mirror or the issuance of a sheet, half the size of the one he likes to drape around himself. These and other stressors will be carefully and subtly introduced not by the interrogator, but by guards. We believe that #63 will likely look to his only human contact, his interviewer, in an attempt to gain help. The interviewer status as a caregiver and problem-solver will thus be increased…. [D]emands by #63 for restoration of things taken from him should be honored slowly so as to create the impression that the interviewer can ultimately help him although not necessarily quickly or with ease.”
This plan for prolonged manipulation to develop al-Qahtani’s complete dependency might or might not be ethical as an interrogation strategy. However, former police investigator and veteran Army counterintelligence operative David DeBatto, who has supervised many hundreds of interrogations, disparaged the use of isolation in the CITF/FBI interrogation plan for al Qahtani (personal communication, November 28, 2009):
“That [the initial three-months isolation] is an excessively long time and on the face of it, violates the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and international law. Two major problems I have with this is first, solitary is a punishment reserved for the worst kind of behavior by inmates in a prison, not for refusing to answer questions. Second, it is the worst possible way to interrogate anyone and will almost always produce negative results.”
At a minimum, there is no question that the participation of psychologists and psychiatrists in the development of this interrogation plan led to the recommendation of strategies that would be likely to cause severe psychological distress and clearly violated psychological and psychiatric ethics.
Prolonged isolation frequently causes severe emotional distress, including psychotic symptoms identical to those appearing in al-Qahtani, such as hearing non-existent voices and talking to non-existent people. Physicians for Human Rights summed up the psychological and psychiatric evidence regarding the harmful effects of isolation or “solitary confinement” in their Leave No Marks report on the US use of psychological torture:
“Findings from clinical research performed by prominent psychologists such as Dr. Stuart Grassian and Dr. Craig Haney, highlight the destructive impact of solitary confinement. Effects include depression, anxiety, difficulties with concentration and memory, hypersensitivity to external stimuli, hallucinations and perceptual distortions, paranoia, suicidal thoughts and behavior, and problems with impulse control.
“According to Dr. Haney many of the negative effects of solitary confinement are analogous to the acute reactions suffered by torture and trauma victims, including posttraumatic stress disorder and the kind of psychiatric consequences that plague victims of what are called ‘deprivation and constraint’ torture techniques” (pp. 32-33).
The American Psychiatric Association, concerned about the conflicts inherent in such interrogation assistance, in 2006 explicitly condemned any direct involvement of their members in interrogations of specific detainees or prisoners, in domestic or national security settings. The Association stated in May 2006:
“No psychiatrist should participate directly in the interrogation of persons held in custody by military or civilian investigative or law enforcement authorities, whether in the United States or elsewhere. Direct participation includes being present in the interrogation room, asking or suggesting questions, or advising authorities on the use of specific techniques of interrogation with particular detainees.”
Until the membership forced a change in APA policy in September 2008, psychologists were allowed to aid interrogations as long as they did not participate in torture or “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” and followed the APA’s ethics code. Psychologists like Michael Gelles are subject to the APA ethics code, if they are members of the Association, as is Dr. Gelles. In addition, the military requires psychologists consulting to interrogations to be licensed by a state as health providers and most states require adherence to the APA ethics code as a requirement of licensure.
According to the APA, the prolonged use of isolation to aid interrogations, as was clearly the case with al-Qahtani, constitutes “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” In August 2007, the APA, under member pressure, banned psychologist participation in a number of interrogation techniques as constituting either “torture” or “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” including
“the following used for the purposes of eliciting information in an interrogation process… isolation… used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm.”
After this resolution was passed, it came under withering criticism from dissident psychologists and the press. As a consequence, the APA’s Ethics Director was forced to issue a clarifying statement in response to reports of four weeks mandatory isolation for new detainees at Guantanamo:
“[T]he 2007 Resolution should never be interpreted as allowing isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation, or sleep deprivation either alone or in combination to be used as interrogation techniques to break down a detainee in order to elicit information.”
“An absolute prohibition against the following techniques…: … isolation…. Psychologists are absolutely prohibited from knowingly planning, designing, participating in or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques at any time and may not enlist others to employ these techniques in order to circumvent this resolution’s prohibition.”
The CITF/FBI interrogation plan for al-Qahtani indicates that Gelles clearly engaged in a prohibited activity: “knowingly planning, designing… the use of … condemned techniques… and may not enlist others to employ these techniques….” Interestingly, when I raised concerns about the loophole regarding isolation in the 2007 Resolution at the APA convention the day after its passage, Gelles said to me “Steve, you have to understand that isolation is often used only very temporarily, only for a few hours” [quote from memory]. He did not mention its use for months at Guantanamo nor his team’s recommendation that it be used for up to a year on al-Qahtani.
Another ethical concern arises from the reported psychological distress that al-Qahtani was experiencing prior to the CITF/FBI interrogation plan being developed. The interrogation plan notes al-Qahtani’s psychotic symptoms, but, other than suggesting a mental evaluation, they simply view his vulnerability as an opportunity for exploitation. This ignoring of al-Qahtani’s mental distress violates the fundamental Principle A undergirding the entire APA ethics code:
“Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm. In their professional actions, psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons…. When conflicts occur among psychologists’ obligations or concerns, they attempt to resolve these conflicts in a responsible fashion that avoids or minimizes harm.”
There is simply no evidence that Gelles and the other authors of this plan sought to “avoid or minimize harm.” Rather, as the plan makes clear, their intention was to systematically increase and exploit distress and disorientation experienced by al-Qahtani, in violation of the ethics code.
The entire plan, with its emphasis on “exploit[ing]” al-Qahtani’s need for human contact violates the ethic’s code’s ban on exploitation:
“Psychologists do not exploit persons over whom they have supervisory, evaluative, or other authority such as clients/patients, students, supervisees, research participants, and employees.” [Ethics Standard 3.08]
Clearly Gelles and the other mental health professionals had, at a minimum, “evaluative authority” over al-Qahtani as they developed their plans to exploit his weaknesses.
Counterintelligence operative DeBatto also expressed concerns regarding the plan’s proposal to impose additional stressors on al-Qahtani in order to render him more dependent upon the interrogator. As expressed by DeBatto:
“Depriving him of sheets, a mirror and adding other `stressors’ is utter nonsense and counterproductive. He has already endured months of stressors. Forcing him to endure more as a form of a ‘stick and carrot’ approach will produce nothing of value. It also violates the interrogators’ ethical training and is blatantly in violation of U.S. and international law.”
Gelles’ proposals in the al-Qahtani case must be deemed unethical and, if executed, would have constituted gross violations of the APA Ethics code, as the APA itself asserted in detailing unethical conduct in detainee treatment in its resolutions of 2007 and 2008. The APA’s parading Gelles as a “heroic” upholder of ethical standards for military interrogations must be revisited. Gelles now joins the ranks of other APA psychologists, including Morgan Banks, Larry James, and Bryce Lefever, whom the organization upheld as models for ethical military interrogation processes, but who subsequently appeared sympathetic to or may have aided abusive practices.
As psychologist Jeffrey Kaye pointed out last summer in two articles [see my commentary here] ethical concerns about Gelles’ pre-Guantanamo interrogation actions had already been raised with the APA long prior to APA’s lauding him as the standard-bearer for psychological ethics in interrogations. Attorney Jonathan Turley reported filing an APA ethics complaint against Gelles for abuses in the prolonged isolation and interrogation of Navy Chief Petty Officer Daniel King, following an ambiguous polygraph result. As described by Turley in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, King requested a mental health consultation because he felt he was losing his grip on reality. Dr. Gelles met with King for a consultation and, according to Turley, ignored King’s reports of suicidal thoughts. Instead, Gelles made help for King contingent upon King’s confession to espionage charges he had denied. Turley, who represented King, reports that the APA did not respond to his ethics complaint against Gelles. To our knowledge, the APA has never commented publicly on Turley’s charges, or on the ethics of Gelles’ treatment of King.
In any case, it turns out that Gelles was well aware of the potential ethical conflicts involved in his work with the CITF. In a 2003 paper in the Journal of Threat Assessment, apparently written at about the same time, Gelles and colleague Patrick Ewing argued that psychiatrists and psychologists involved in national security work should not be subject to professional ethics codes:
“Given the grave dangers faced by the United States and its allies post September 11, the government can ill afford to lose the input of psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals in cases involving national safety and security. Such input has been and will continue to be vital to protecting the lives of many Americans, civilian and military, at home and abroad. In order to maintain the ability and willingness of these dedicated professionals to continue in these roles, we cannot continue to place them in situations where the ethics of their conduct will be judged, post hoc, either by rules that have little if any relevance to their vital governmental functions or by professional organizations or licensing authorities based upon the weight the members of these bodies chose to afford competing interests…” (p. 106).
In 2005, two years after this article appeared, Gelles, along with James, Banks, and Lefever, was appointed by the APA, to the seminal APA Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS). This military- and intelligence-dominated group gave the ethical go-ahead for psychologists to aid detainee interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere.
In an open letter in 2007, psychologist Uwe Jacobs posed a series of questions to Dr. Gelles including:
“[W]hat were the techniques used that you did not find objectionable? To cite a few examples, did you believe it was ethical to transport prisoners to Guantanamo under conditions of sensory deprivation, i.e. wearing hoods, goggles, earmuffs, and other devices designed to create sensory deprivation and isolation, along with very restrictive shackling? Did you believe it was ethical to keep prisoners in solitary confinement for very long periods of time? Is it ethical to deprive prisoners of sleep? Is it ethical to subject them to severe heat and cold, constant noises or lights, stress positions, short shackling, screaming abuse etc.? You know the list I am referring to. Do you agree that these techniques have long been proven to produce severe nervous system dysregulation and often lasting psychological damage? Do these techniques not by definition constitute torture, just as stated by the UN?”
Gelles refused to answer Jacobs’ questions. We can surmise, from his earlier statements, that Gelles simply did not believe that intelligence psychologists should “be judged, post hoc, either by [ethical] rules that have little if any relevance to their vital governmental functions….” The APA has yet to explain why it appointed to the PENS task force someone who had already expressed disdain for the APA ethics code and why it continues to extol Gelles as a paragon of psychological ethics in interrogations.
Note: I would like to thank Jeffrey Kaye for pointing me to the Ewing and Gelles paper.
December 7th, 2009
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