June 10th, 2010
Posts filed under 'SERE'
Over the last year there have been an increasing number of accounts suggesting that, along with the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” torture program, there was a related program experimenting with and researching the application of the torture.
For example, in the seven paragraphs released by a British court summarizing observations by British counterintelligence agents of the treatment of Binyan Mohamed by the CIA, the first two of these paragraphs stated:
It was reported that a new series of interviews was conducted by the United States authorities prior to 17 May 2002 as part of a new strategy designed by an expert interviewer….
BM had been intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation. The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed. [emphasis added]
The suggestion was that a new strategy was being tested and the results carefully examined. Several detainees have provided similar accounts, expressing their belief that their interrogations were being carefully studied, apparently so that the techniques could be modified based on the results. Such research would violate established laws and ethical rules governing research.
Since Nazi doctors who experimented upon prisoners in the concentration camps were put on trial at Nuremberg, the U.S. and other countries have moved toward a high ethical standard for research on people. All but the most innocuous research requires the informed consent of those studied. Further, all research on people is subject to review by independent research ethics committees, known as Institutional Review Boards or IRBs.
In the US, there was a major push toward more stringent research ethics when the existence of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was publicly revealed in the early 1970s. In that study nearly 400 poor rural African-American men were denied existing treatment for their syphilis, and indeed, were never told they had syphilis by participating doctors. The study by the US Public Health Service was intended to continue until the last of these men died of syphilis. When the study became public the resulting outcry helped cement evolving ethical standards mandating informed consent for any research with even a possibility of causing harm. These rules were codified in what has become known as the Common Rule, which applies to nearly all federally-funded research, including all research by the CIA.
Experiments in Torture
A new report of which I am a coauthor, Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the “Enhanced” Interrogation Program, just released by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) confirms previous suspicions and provides the first strong evidence that the CIA was indeed engaged in illegal and unethical research on detainees in its custody. The report, the result of six months of detailed work, analyzes now-public documents, including the “torture memos” from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and the CIA’s Inspector General Report and the accompanying CIA Office of Medical Services (OMS) guidelines for monitoring of detainees.
The report points to several instances where medical personnel -– physicians and psychologists –- monitored the detailed administration of torture techniques and the effects upon those being abused. The resultant knowledge was then used both as a legal rationale for the use of the techniques and to refine these abusive techniques, allegedly in order to make them safer.
For example, the OMS guidelines contain this note emphasizing how important it is “that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented” by medical personnel, and clarifying the nature of this documentation:
“how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was applied (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment.”
This type of documentation was not part of routine medical care as it was not being done in the interests of the person being waterboarded. Rather, the OMS made clear that this was being done
“[i]n order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations” [regarding how to torture people.]
The purpose of this systematic monitoring was to modify how these techniques were implemented, that is, to develop generalizable knowledge to be utilized in the future. As Renée Llanusa-Cestero demonstrated in a recent paper on CIA research in the peer-reviewed journal Accountability in Medicine, the medical personnel conducting these observations were primarily present as researchers to observe and monitor, not as treating doctors.
Other examples in the PHR report describe instances in which OMS staff investigated the degree to which severe pain that may meet the legal definition of torture arose from the applications of a specific technique (sleep deprivation) or from combinations of individual techniques. In the combined techniques example, they apparently experimented with different combinations of abusive techniques -– “for example, when an insult slap is simultaneously combined with water dousing or a kneeling stress position, or when wall standing is simultaneously combined with an abdominal slap and water dousing” -– and studied the suffering that each combination created. The Office of Legal Counsel drew upon this research in one of the torture memos to argue that, because they claimed the individual “enhanced techniques” were not harmful, combining these varied techniques also would not cause interrogators to slip over the line allegedly separating legal techniques from illegal “torture.”
It is hard not to conclude that the CIA was conducting research upon detainees. These observations and experiments were not conducted for the benefit of the individuals being brutally interrogated but for the purpose of creating generalizable knowledge and thus constituted research subject to the laws and ethical rules regulating research, including the Common Rule.
Evidence Techniques Are Harmful
The PHR report also argues that literature existing in 2002 when the torture program began provides strong reason to believe that these “enhanced interrogation” torture techniques might well cause severe harm to those subjected to them. In an appendix, the report summarizes a set of studies on the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) program that demonstrated a whole panoply of potentially serious effects that occurred when these techniques were administered to U.S. service members over a few days. The Resistance portion of the SERE program attempts to inoculate special forces and others at high risk of capture against breaking if subjected to techniques banned by the Geneva Conventions, that is, to torture. In SERE, soldiers are subjected to brief periods of “enhanced interrogations” in order to prepare them for the real thing if captured and tortured. It was to SERE that the CIA and Bush administration turned when they decided to adopt torture as official policy.
Despite the fact that those subjected to SERE were volunteers, had a ‘safe word’ to end their abuse, and knew that their torment would end in a few days, an extensive program of research demonstrates that those subjected to the techniques even to a very limited degree suffered a whole range of potentially serious physical and psychological effects, including severely increased stress hormone levels and high rates of psychological dissociation, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Despite this body of published research, when the Bush Justice Department worked on the torture memos, they argued — ignoring this SERE research as well as many accounts from torture survivors — that the SERE experience demonstrated that the techniques were not harmful. In later memos, however, Justice Department lawyers apparently tried to strengthen their case by citing the CIA research derived from its torture implementation as further evidence that the techniques did not cause serious harm. Thus, one of the main finding in the PHR report is that one set of potentially criminal acts, illegal and unethical research, was used, incorrectly, to justify another set of potentially criminal acts, torture of detainees.
Reason for CIA Torture Research
The language of the documents might be interpreted as suggesting that the CIA engaged in this research to avoid harming the detainees, to keep the interrogations “safe and ethical.” This was far from the truth. Rather, the Justice Department torture memos argued that torturers could be protected from prosecution for their acts of torture if they demonstrated a “good faith” effort to avoid causing the “severe pain” involved in legal definitions of torture irrespective of how much suffering and harm the torturers actually caused.
One way they could demonstrate such a good faith effort was to consult with health professionals, the researchers, who could assure them that their actions would not cause harm. Another way to demonstrate good faith was to collect and analyze evidence of prior interrogations demonstrating, allegedly, that they did not cause severe harm. Thus, the quality of the research did not matter. Its very existence would provide the CIA torturers and responsible officials with a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The SERE studies described in the PHR report provided good reason to suspect that the CIA’s torture would cause harm. That is likely why they were ignored by the CIA and the lawyers writing the torture memos.But the CIA’s torture research claiming that the “enhanced interrogation” tactics were safe could be used as a legal defense for the torturers, possibly counteracting the body of legitimate research demonstrating the opposite. The CIA’s research was junk science. But that was no problem because its purpose wasn’t increasing understanding, but ass-covering, CYA, for the CIA.
Call for Investigation
This PHR report provides evidence that the CIA likely violated federal ethics rules as well as a prohibition in the War Crimes Act on biological experiments on prisoners “without a legitimate medical or dental purpose.” Thus PHR calls for both a criminal investigation of this research and these experiments, which may well constitute a war crime, and an investigation by the Office of Human Research Protections of research ethics violations.
Regarding the call for a criminal investigation, it is important to realize that the logic used by the Obama administration to refuse an investigation of torture claims -– that the torture memos allowed the torturers to believe their actions were legally sanctioned -– does not apply to potential research on detainees. As far as is publicly known, there exist no “torture research” memos authorizing ignoring laws and regulations prohibiting research on torture techniques.
American Psychological Association
In addition to criminal and federal penalties, another necessary response to these reported torture experiments is professional sanctioning of any health professionals found to have participated in the research. Physician organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have adopted clear ethical rules prohibiting their members’ participation in either the “enhanced interrogation” program or in research such as that described here. The exception among major health professional organizations is the American Psychological Association (APA).
In 2002 the APA modified its ethics code to allow psychologists to dispense with informed consent
“where otherwise permitted by law or federal or institutional regulations. ” [ethics code standard 8.05.]
Whatever the reason for the APA making this modification, it could be interpreted as allowing psychologists to follow CIA (or military) directives authorizing exemption from the informed consent requirement. This lowered standard does not change psychologists’ legal or ethical obligations in terms of causing harm, but it does unacceptably weaken research standards. This modification should be removed.
In February 2010, after eight years of stalling, the APA removed from its ethics code a related loophole, ethics code standard1.02, often described as the “Nuremberg Defense,” that allowed dispensing with any section of the code when it was in conflict with “the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority.” But even with the long-delayed correction to 1.02, changes permitting psychologists to perform research on subjects without their consent remain in the ethics code. To date, there has been no explanation offered by the APA for reducing the standard on informed consent, nor has there been any response to longstanding calls from PHR, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and numerous other psychological and human rights groups to restore psychologists’ informed consent ethical obligations the standards that all other health professional associations have instituted since Tuskegee and Nuremberg. Psychologists and others should demand that the APA immediately remove this ethics code section.
Note: Work such as the production of this report takes extensive resources. It is only possible because of the generosity of those who contribute to PHR. Readers who value this information might consider going to PHR’s web site for the report and making a contribution.
June 7th, 2010
Jeff Kaye in Truthout discusses a tantalizing new tidbit hat adds to the evidence that the CIA was engaged in a systematic research project through its enhanced interrogation torture program:
Psychologists Notes May Indicate Zubaydah Torture Experimentation
By Jeffrey Kaye
One interesting nugget found in newly released CIA documents related to the destruction of 92 torture tapes concerns the unreported existence of psychologist’s notes as a standard part of the interrogation protocol.
In a “top secret” paper (undated) entitled “The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, March 2001 – January 2003,” in a section that, though heavily redacted, describes the review of the tapes by a CIA attorney from the Office of General Counsel, “interrogation materials” are described as consisting of “videotapes, logbook, notebook, and psychologist’s notes.”
(The “March 2001″ date on the report is surely incorrect, and should say March 2002, when Zubaydah was captured and brought into the CIA interrogation process. There are many errors and outright lies in the report. One of them concerns the affirmative statement that Zubaydah was “the author of a seminal Al Qaeda manual on resistance to interrogation methods.” This is a step beyond the conditional language used to assert the same claim in other CIA documents. The al-Qaeda manual’s authorship is considered unknown. It was discovered in May 2000 on a computer drive belonging to Anas al-Liby in Manchester, England. Al-Liby was reportedly working then with purported double or triple agent, FBI informant and former US Special Forces member, Ali Mohamed. Al-Liby himself, was, according to a November 2002 story in the UK Guardian, a member of a Libyan al-Qaeda cell that was paid by British intelligence in 1996 to attempt an assassination of Muammar Gaddafi.)
The content of those psychologist notes, should they become available, will indicate to what end CIA interrogators and/or behavioral scientists were measuring the responses of Zubaydah or other prisoners to variations in the interrogation techniques’ application. Variables of interest to CIA psychologists might include head movements and hand movements, facial expressions or microexpressions, used in detecting deception or behavioral manifestations of stress. These types of observation are synonymous with computer analysis and argue for the use of a digital video system or the transfer of analog video into data stored on magnetic or optical medial. The same release of documents to the ACLU that contained the “The CIA Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah,” also described CIA officials asking for “instructions” regarding the “disposition of hard drives and magnetic media” associated with the torture of Zubaydah.
In his or her notes, the CIA psychologist-analyst also would be describing mood; affect (appropriate or not, what it was); observed variations in consciousness, including instances of possible dissociation; and particularly unusual behaviors (e.g., urinating on oneself, or continually masturbating, as Zubaydah was reported to do as a soothing activity for a person highly stressed and regressed).
The examination of psychological variables, such as could be determined upon videotape review, does not rule out other forms of data that could be drawn from the prisoner interrogations. The CIA has noted that it took preliminary medical examinations of prisoners, and that while they were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” they were medically and psychologically monitored daily. Such medical forms of monitoring would include variables associated with the experience of “uncontrollable stress.”
Studying “Uncontrollable Stress” and “Learned Helplessness”
In a number of professional studies, the terms “uncontrollable stress” and “learned helplessness” are used interchangeably, as in this example. The term learned helplessness itself was fashioned by psychologist, researcher and former American Psychological (APA) President Martin Seligman. The theory was taken up by military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen to describe the kinds of effects on prisoners the enhanced interrogation techniques were meant to produce. While Seligman spoke to a SERE meeting in 2002 on the subject of learned helplessness, he denies he had any connection with the formation of the Bush-era torture program. Last August, Scott Shane of The New York Times reported that Mitchell visited Seligman’s home, accompanied by CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard, where “a small group of professors and law enforcement and intelligence officers gathered … to brainstorm about Muslim extremism.”
CIA and Department of Defense (DoD) researchers are known to have experimented (including upon SERE mock torture trainees) with the use of a number of techniques to measure such uncontrollable stress, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), acoustic startle eye-blink response (ASER), heart rate variability (HRV), testosterone and neuroendrocrine sampling, particularly of cortisol and neuropeptide-Y (NPY).
Psychologist’s notes might also include preliminary hypotheses in relation to these reactions and the psychological theories of learned helplessness that were driving the interrogations. Perhaps – and this would be even more important – we would discover evidence that the psychologist(s) were conjuring suggestions about ways to manipulate the situation on a day-by-day basis.
From what is known or speculated about a second taping system used in the interrogation of Zubaydah, it seems likely that psychologist notes were also an integral part of the process involved in the use of those tapes.
The specific use of psychologist’s notes corroborates earlier information that ongoing psychological and medical observations were playing a key role in the CIA interrogation process. This was clearly revealed in the various Office of Legal Counsel memos released last year. According to a report by Sheri Fink at ProPublica in May 2009, descriptions of CIA cables released to the ACLU at that time (see PDFs here and here) showed that “medical update[s]” and “behavioral comments” regarding the interrogation of Zubaydah were sent from CIA personnel in the “field” to CIA headquarters on a daily basis. Fink elaborates:
On five occasions between Aug. 4 and Aug. 9,  an additional cable was sent containing “medical information” along with such information as the strategies for interrogation sessions, raw intelligence, the use of interrogation techniques to elicit information, and the reactions to those techniques. The fact that medical information was included in these cables hints that Abu Zubaydah was medically monitored during or after being subjected to those techniques. Both professional organizations and human rights groups have rejected as unethical any monitoring role for medical personnel.
A number of psychologists have been associated with the CIA interrogation program, either directly through participation in the planning and implementation of the torture, or by supporting the presence of psychologists in the interrogation process. The latter issue embroiled the APA in a controversy that led to the exodus of many members. A number of the presidents and other prominent members of the APA have been connected in one way or another to the CIA and DoD interrogation programs, in clear violation of the organization’s own ethical standards.
Last August, Physicians for Human Rights released a white paper that raised the question of medical collaboration with the CIA in constructing its torture interrogation program.
“The [CIA] Inspector General’s report confirms much of what had been reported about the essential role played by health professionals in designing, deploying, monitoring and legitimizing the program of torture, but also raises disturbing new questions which require further investigation,” stated the study “Aiding Torture: Health Professionals’ Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 CIA Inspector General’s Report.”
“The possibility that health professionals monitored techniques to assess and improve their effectiveness, constituting possible unethical human experimentation, urgently needs to be thoroughly investigated.”
April 25th, 2010
Jason Leopold, in a new Truthout piece on the diaries of Abu Zubaydeh, provides further evidence that the CIA was explicitly conducting research through its enhanced interrogation program:
These sources, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because details remain classified, said one of the main reasons Zubaydah’s early torture sessions were videotaped was to gain insight into his “physical reaction” to the techniques used against him, which was then shared with officials at the CIA and the Justice Department, who used that information to help draft the August 2002 torture memo stating what interrogation methods could be legally used, how often the methods could be employed and how it should be administered without crossing the line into torture.
For example, one current and three former CIA officials said some videotapes showed Zubaydah being sleep deprived for more than two weeks. Contractors hired by the CIA studied how he responded psychologically and physically to being kept awake for that amount of time. By looking at videotapes, they concluded that after the 11th consecutive day of being kept awake Zubaydah started to “severely break down.” So, the torture memo concluded that 11 days of sleep deprivation was legal and did not meet the definition of torture.
“I would describe it this way,” said one former National Security official. “[Zubaydah] was an experiment. A guinea pig. I’m sure you’ve heard that a lot. There were many enhanced interrogation [methods] tested on him that have never been discussed before we settled on the 10 [techniques].”
Anyone reminded of the Nazi doctors’ trials?
March 29th, 2010
Mark Benjamin has put together all the chilling details on the CIA’s application of waterboarding from the publicly released documents. The details make clear that CIA waterboarding bore little relationship to that used in the Navy SERE School. BTW, Jeffrey Kaye recently revealed an internal JPRA memo showing that the agency decided that waterboarding was far from safe for its soldier-students:
Waterboarding for dummies
Internal CIA documents reveal a meticulous protocol that was far more brutal than Dick Cheney’s “dunk in the water”
By Mark Benjamin
Self-proclaimed waterboarding fan Dick Cheney called it a no-brainer in a 2006 radio interview: Terror suspects should get a “a dunk in the water.” But recently released internal documents reveal the controversial “enhanced interrogation” practice was far more brutal on detainees than Cheney’s description sounds, and was administered with meticulous cruelty.
Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney “specially designed” to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner’s nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking – and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing.
The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding “session.” Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to “dam the runoff” and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee’s mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second “applications” of liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a detainee’s nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.
“This is revolting and it is deeply disturbing,” said Dr. Scott Allen, co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University who has reviewed all of the documents for Physicians for Human Rights. “The so-called science here is a total departure from any ethics or any legitimate purpose. They are saying, ‘This is how risky and harmful the procedure is, but we are still going to do it.’ It just sounds like lunacy,” he said. “This fine-tuning of torture is unethical, incompetent and a disgrace to medicine.”
These torture guidelines were contained in a ream of internal government documents made public over the past year, including a legal review of Bush-era CIA interrogations by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility released late last month.
Though public, the hundreds of pages of documents authorizing or later reviewing the agency’s “enhanced interrogation program” haven’t been mined for waterboarding details until now. While Bush-Cheney officials defended the legality and safety of waterboarding by noting the practice has been used to train U.S. service members to resist torture, the documents show that the agency’s methods went far beyond anything ever done to a soldier during training. U.S. soldiers, for example, were generally waterboarded with a cloth over their face one time, never more than twice, for about 20 seconds, the CIA admits in its own documents.
These memos show the CIA went much further than that with terror suspects, using huge and dangerous quantities of liquid over long periods of time. The CIA’s waterboarding was “different” from training for elite soldiers, according to the Justice Department document released last month. “The difference was in the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed,” the document notes. In soldier training, “The interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth (on a soldier’s face) in a controlled manner,” DOJ wrote. “By contrast, the agency interrogator … continuously applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose.”
One of the more interesting revelations in the documents is the use of a saline solution in waterboarding. Why? Because the CIA forced such massive quantities of water into the mouths and noses of detainees, prisoners inevitably swallowed huge amounts of liquid – enough to conceivably kill them from hyponatremia, a rare but deadly condition in which ingesting enormous quantities of water results in a dangerously low concentration of sodium in the blood. Generally a concern only for marathon runners , who on extremely rare occasions drink that much water, hyponatremia could set in during a prolonged waterboarding session. A waterlogged, sodium-deprived prisoner might become confused and lethargic, slip into convulsions, enter a coma and die.
Therefore, “based on advice of medical personnel,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury wrote in a May 10, 2005, memo authorizing continued use of waterboarding, “the CIA requires that saline solution be used instead of plain water to reduce the possibility of hyponatremia.”
The agency used so much water there was also another risk: pneumonia resulting from detainees inhaling the fluid forced into their mouths and noses. Saline, the CIA argued, might reduce the risk of pneumonia when this occurred.
“The detainee might aspirate some of the water, and the resulting water in the lungs might lead to pneumonia,” Bradbury noted in the same memo. “To mitigate this risk, a potable saline solution is used in the procedure.”
That particular Bradbury memo laid out a precise and disturbing protocol for what went on in each waterboarding session. The CIA used a “specially designed” gurney for waterboarding, Bradbury wrote. After immobilizing a prisoner by strapping him down, interrogators then tilted the gurney to a 10-15 degree downward angle, with the detainee’s head at the lower end. They put a black cloth over his face and poured water, or saline, from a height of 6 to 18 inches, documents show. The slant of the gurney helped drive the water more directly into the prisoner’s nose and mouth. But the gurney could also be tilted upright quickly, in the event the prisoner stopped breathing.
Detainees would be strapped to the gurney for a two-hour “session.” During that session, the continuous flow of water onto a detainee’s face was not supposed to exceed 40 seconds during each pour. Interrogators could perform six separate 40-second pours during each session, for a total of four minutes of pouring. Detainees could be subjected to two of those two-hour sessions during a 24-hour period, which adds up to eight minutes of pouring. But the CIA’s guidelines say interrogators could pour water over the nose and mouth of a detainee for 12 minutes total during each 24-hour period. The documents do not explain the extra four minutes to get to 12.
Interrogators were instructed to pour the water when a detainee had just exhaled so that he would inhale during the pour. An interrogator was also allowed to force the water down a detainee’s mouth and nose using his hands. “The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee’s nose and mouth to dam the runoff,” the Bradbury memo notes. “In which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water.”
“We understand that water may enter – and accumulate in – the detainee’s mouth and nasal cavity, preventing him from breathing,” the memo admits.
Should a prisoner stop breathing during the procedure, the documents instructed interrogators to rapidly tilt the gurney to an upright position to help expel the saline. “If the detainee is not breathing freely after the cloth is removed from his face, he is immediately moved to a vertical position in order to clear the water from his mouth, nose, and nasopharynx,” Bradbury wrote. “The gurney used for administering this technique is specially designed so that this can be accomplished very quickly if necessary.”
Documents drafted by CIA medical officials in 2003, about a year after the agency started using the waterboard, describe more aggressive procedures to get the water out and the subject breathing. “An unresponsive subject should be righted immediately,” the CIA Office of Medical Services ordered in its Sept. 4, 2003, medical guidelines for interrogations. “The interrogator should then deliver a sub-xyphoid thrust to expel the water.” (That’s a blow below the sternum, similar to the thrust delivered to a chocking victim in the Heimlich maneuver.)
But even those steps might not force the prisoner to resume breathing. Waterboarding, according to the Bradbury memo, could produce “spasms of the larynx” that might keep a prisoner from breathing “even when the application of water is stopped and the detainee is returned to an upright position.” In such cases, Bradbury wrote, “a qualified physician would immediately intervene to address the problem and, if necessary, the intervening physician would perform a tracheotomy.” The agency required that “necessary emergency medical equipment” be kept readily available for that procedure. The documents do not say if doctors ever performed a tracheotomy on a prisoner.
The doctors were also present to monitor the detainee “to ensure that he does not develop respiratory distress.” A leaked 2007 report from the International Committee of the Red Cross says that meant the detainee’s finger was fixed with a pulse oxymeter, a device that measures the oxygen saturation level in the blood during the procedure. Doctors like Allen say this would allow interrogators to push a detainee close to death – but help them from crossing the line. “It is measuring in real time the oxygen content in the blood second by second,” Allen explained about the pulse oxymeter. “It basically allows them to push these prisoners more to the edge. With that, you can keep going. This is calibration of harm by health professionals.”
One of the weirdest details in the documents is the revelation that the agency placed detainees on liquid diets prior to the use of waterboarding. That’s because during waterboarding, “a detainee might vomit and then aspirate the emesis,” Bradbury wrote. In other words, breathe in his own vomit. The CIA recommended the use of Ensure Plus for the liquid diet.
Plowing through hundreds of pages of these documents is an unsettling experience. On one level, the detailed instructions can be seen as helping to carry out kinder, gentler waterboarding, with so much care and attention given to making sure detainees didn’t stop breathing, get pneumonia, breathe in their own vomit or die. But of course dead detainees tell no tales, so the CIA needed to keep many of its prisoners alive. It should be noted, though, that six human rights groups in 2007 released a report showing that 39 people who appeared to have gone into the CIA’s secret prison network haven’t shown up since. The careful attention to detail in the documents was also used to provide legal cover for the harsh and probably illegal interrogation tactics.
As brutal as the waterboarding process was, the memos also reveal that the Bush-era Justice Department authorized the CIA to use it in combination with other forms of torture. Specifically, a detainee could be kept awake for more than seven days straight by shackling his hands in a standing position to a bolt in the ceiling so he could never sit down. The agency diapered and hand-fed its detainees during this period before putting them on the waterboard. Another memo from Bradbury, also from 2005, says that in between waterboarding sessions, a detainee could be physically slammed into a wall, crammed into a small box, placed in “stress positions” to increase discomfort and doused with cold water, among other things.
The CIA’s waterboarding regimen was so excruciating, the memos show, that agency officials found themselves grappling with an unexpected development: detainees simply gave up and tried to let themselves drown. “In our limited experience, extensive sustained use of the waterboard can introduce new risks,” the CIA’s Office of Medical Services wrote in its 2003 memo. “Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue or psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness.”
The agency’s medical guidelines say that after a case of “psychological resignation” by a detainee on the waterboard, an interrogator had to get approval from a CIA doctor before doing it again.
The memo also contains a last, little-noticed paragraph that may be the most disturbing of all. It seems to say that the detainees subjected to waterboarding were also guinea pigs. The language is eerily reminiscent of the very reasons the Nuremberg Code was written in the first place. That paragraph reads as follows:
“NOTE: In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented: how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was used in the process (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment.”
March 9th, 2010
In a New York Times Op Ed, Leonard Rubenstein and Brig. Gen. [ret] Stephen Xenakis discuss the contrast between the investigation of the torture lawyers and the lack of any investigation of the torture physicians and psychologists:
Doctors Without Morals
By Leonard S. Rubenstein and Stephen N. Xenakis
After five years of investigation, the Justice Department has released its findings regarding the government lawyers who authorized waterboarding and other forms of torture during the interrogation of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. The report’s conclusion, that the lawyers exercised poor judgment but were not guilty of professional misconduct, is questionable at best. Still, the review reflects a commitment to a transparent investigation of professional behavior.
In contrast, the government doctors and psychologists who participated in and authorized the torture of detainees have escaped discipline, accountability or even internal investigation.
It is hardly news that medical staff at the C.I.A. and the Pentagon played a critical role in developing and carrying out torture procedures. Psychologists and at least one doctor designed or recommended coercive interrogation methods including sleep deprivation, stress positions, isolation and waterboarding. The military’s Behavioral Science Consultation Teams evaluated detainees, consulted their medical records to ascertain vulnerabilities and advised interrogators when to push harder for intelligence information.
Psychologists designed a program for new arrivals at Guantánamo that kept them in isolation to “enhance and exploit” their “disorientation and disorganization.” Medical officials monitored interrogations and ordered medical interventions so they could continue even when the detainee was in obvious distress. In one case, an interrogation log obtained by Time magazine shows, a medical corpsman ordered intravenous fluids to be administered to a dehydrated detainee even as loud music was played to deprive him of sleep.
When the C.I.A.’s inspector general challenged these “enhanced interrogation” methods, the agency’s Office of Medical Services was brought in to determine, in consultation with the Justice Department, whether the techniques inflicted severe mental pain or suffering, the legal definition of torture. Once again, doctors played a critical role, providing professional opinions that no severe pain or suffering was being inflicted.
According to Justice Department memos released last year, the medical service opined that sleep deprivation up to 180 hours didn’t qualify as torture. It determined that confinement in a dark, small space for 18 hours a day was acceptable. It said detainees could be exposed to cold air or hosed down with cold water for up to two-thirds of the time it takes for hypothermia to set in. And it advised that placing a detainee in handcuffs attached by a chain to a ceiling, then forcing him to stand with his feet shackled to a bolt in the floor, “does not result in significant pain for the subject.”
The service did allow that waterboarding could be dangerous, and that the experience of feeling unable to breathe is extremely frightening. But it noted that the C.I.A. had limited its use to 12 applications over two sessions within 24 hours, and to five days in any 30-day period. As a result, the lawyers noted the office’s “professional judgment that the use of the waterboard on a healthy individual subject to these limitations would be ‘medically acceptable.’”
The medical basis for these opinions was nonexistent. The Office of Medical Services cited no studies of individuals who had been subjected to these techniques. Its sources included a wilderness medical manual, the National Institute of Mental Health Web site and guidelines from the World Health Organization.
The only medical source cited by the service was a book by Dr. James Horne, a sleep expert at Loughborough University in Britain; when Dr. Horne learned that his book had been used as a reference, he said the C.I.A. had distorted his findings and misrepresented his research, and that its conclusions on sleep deprivation were nonsense.
Dr. Horne had used healthy volunteers who were subject to no other stresses and could withdraw at any time, while C.I.A. and Pentagon interrogators used a broad array of stresses in combination on the detainees. Sleep deprivation, he said, mixed with pain-inducing positioning, intimidation and a host of other stresses, would probably exhaust the body’s defense mechanisms, cause physical collapse and worsen existing illness. And that doesn’t begin to acknowledge the dire psychological consequences.
The shabbiness of the medical judgments, though, pales in comparison to the ethical breaches by the doctors and psychologists involved. Health professionals have a responsibility extending well beyond nonparticipation in torture; the historic maxim is, after all, “First do no harm.” These health professionals did the polar opposite.
Nevertheless, no agency — not the Pentagon, the C.I.A., state licensing boards or professional medical societies — has initiated any action to investigate, much less discipline, these individuals. They have ignored the gross and appalling violations by medical personnel. This is an unconscionable disservice to the thousands of ethical doctors and psychologists in the country’s service. It is not too late to begin investigations. They should start now.
March 1st, 2010
Marcy Wheeler — emptywheel – has apparently figured out that the OPR report indicates that the CIA’s torture psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, wanted to use a mock burial, but that that was too much for John Yoo, unless he was given additional time to dream up a legal cover. Raw Story reports:
Bush’s torture psychologists wanted to use ‘mock burials’: report
By Raw Story
Two psychologists working on the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques pushed for the use of “mock burials” on terror suspects, according to documents released by the Department of Justice.Blogger Marcy Wheeler reports that the Department of Justice rejected a request from psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell to give the CIA the power to pretend to bury terror suspects during interrogations in the years after the 9/11 attacks.
A report (PDF, 289 pages) from the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, released last Friday, documents ten interrogation techniques approved by Bush administration lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo.
But Wheeler notes that the psychologists had requested twelve techniques. One of those two techniques has already been revealed to be prolonged diapering. Wheeler uncovers evidence that the other one was mock burial.
“There must have been significant discussion about the decision to exclude mock burial from the [list of approved enhanced interrogation techniques], because the reference to its exclusion in the report itself (PDF page 60 in the Final Report) includes a page and a half of redactions following the discussion of leaving it out,” Wheeler reports.
Wheeler also suggests that the revelations about mock burial could be potentially incriminating for the CIA.
“Any legal discussion of why mock burial would be a problem would focus on how torture statutes prohibit the threat of imminent death,” Wheeler writes.
“Yet after mock burial was specifically excluded as a torture technique, CIA torturers went on to threaten detainees with a power drill and a gun. In other words, someone at that CIA had already been told, specifically, that they could not use the threat of imminent death on detainees. But on at least two occasions, they did so anyway.”
A CIA inspector general’s report, released last summer, documented cases of CIA interrogators using “mock executions” to intimidate suspects, including one instance in which a gun was fired in an adjoining room to make a suspect think another prisoner had been shot.
Jessen and Mitchell, the two psychologists reportedly behind the idea to carry out mock burials, came from SERE, or “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape,” a military program designed to teach soldiers how to resist torture when captured. They were contracted to work for the CIA after 9/11, and were tasked with teaching CIA interrogators some of the harsh methods they learned to defend against at SERE. The techniques covered by SERE appear to be the basis for the enhanced interrogation program run under the Bush administration.
In 2008, the Pentagon banned the use of SERE techniques in interrogations.
February 25th, 2010
Back in 2007, CIA agent John Kiriakou told ABC news and the world how wonderfully waterboarding worked. After 35 seconds, Abu Zubaydah told all. The Torture Party jumped on this.When the OLC memos revealed that Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times, the claim no longer made sense. Nonetheless, given its source, it was repeated endlessly.
Now, in a new book, Kiriakou tells us it was all disinformation. He actually knew nothing about what happened. Jeff Stein explains:
CIA Man Retracts Claim on Waterboarding
A study in “enhanced reporting techniques.”
By Jeff Stein
Well, it’s official now: John Kiriakou, the former CIA operative who affirmed claims that waterboarding quickly unloosed the tongues of hard-core terrorists, says he didn’t know what he was talking about.
Kiriakou, a 15-year veteran of the agency’s intelligence analysis and operations directorates, electrified the hand-wringing national debate over torture in December 2007 when he told ABC’s Brian Ross and Richard Esposito in a much ballyhooed, exclusive interview that senior al Qaeda commando Abu Zubaydah cracked after only one application of the face cloth and water.
“From that day on, he answered every question,” Kiriakou said. “The threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.”
No matter that Kiriakou wearily said he shared the anguish of millions of Americans, not to mention the rest of the world, over the CIA’s application of the medieval confession technique.
The point was that it worked. And the pro-torture camp was quick to pick up on Kiriakou’s claim.
“It works, is the bottom line,” conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh exclaimed on his radio show the day after Kiriakou’s ABC interview. “Thirty to 35 seconds, and it works.”
A cascade of similar acclamations followed, muffling — to this day — the later revelation that Zubaydah had in fact been waterboarded at least 83 times.
Had Kiriakou left out something the first time?
Now comes John Kiriakou, again, with a wholly different story. On the next-to-last page of a new memoir, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror (written with Michael Ruby), Kiriakou now rather off handedly admits that he basically made it all up.
“What I told Brian Ross in late 2007 was wrong on a couple counts,” he writes. “I suggested that Abu Zubaydah had lasted only thirty or thirty-five seconds during his waterboarding before he begged his interrogators to stop; after that, I said he opened up and gave the agency actionable intelligence.”
But never mind, he says now.
“I wasn’t there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I’d heard and read inside the agency at the time.”
In a word, it was hearsay, water-cooler talk.
“Now we know,” Kiriakou goes on, “that Zubaydah was waterboarded eighty-three times in a single month, raising questions about how much useful information he actually supplied.”
Indeed. But after his one-paragraph confession, Kiriakou adds that he didn’t have any first hand knowledge of anything relating to CIA torture routines, and still doesn’t. And he claims that the disinformation he helped spread was a CIA dirty trick: “In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own.”
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano dodged that mud ball.
“While I haven’t read John’s book, the line about deception doesn’t make any sense,” Gimigliano told me last week. “He apparently didn’t know as much as he thought he did. That’s a very different matter.”
Some time ago, as it turns out, ABC quietly “updated” the story. A few paragraphs down on the front page of the website version of its Kiriakou yarn, it says, “see endnote.”
A click or two later, Kiriakou, who later went to work for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, explains to readers:
“When I spoke to ABC News in December 2007 I was aware of Abu Zubaydah being water boarded on one occasion. It was after this one occasion that he revealed information related to a planned terrorist attack. As I said in the original interview, my information was second-hand. I never participated in the use of enhanced techniques on Abu Zubaydah or on any other prisoner, nor did I witness the use of such techniques.”
Kiriakou’s insistence, however vague, that Zubaydah “revealed information related to a planned terrorist attack” has to be taken with a soupçon of salt.
As Brian Stelter, a New York Times media reporter, wrote last April, Kiriakou “was not actually in the secret prison in Thailand where Mr. Zubaydah had been interrogated but in the C.I.A. headquarters in Northern Virginia. He learned about it only by reading accounts from the field.”
ABC’s Ross had glossed over the glaring fact in its broadcast, saying only that Kiriakou himself “never carried out any of the waterboarding” — which got lost in the telling, in light of the main story line picked up by the rest of the media.
ABC has now removed the video of its Kiriakou interview from its site. But the headline, large photo of the CIA man, and story remain, with its opening paragraph, “A leader of the CIA team that captured the first major al Qaeda figure, Abu Zubaydah, says subjecting him to waterboarding was torture but necessary.” You have to dig deep to find that none of it is true.
Comments on the piece were closed last May, with a representative stating, “[I]n times of war, those on the front line make very tough decisions and the rights of the accused are not the ones they defend first.”
After Kiriakou repeated his waterboarding-efficiency claims to the Washington Post, the New York Times, National Public Radio, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and other media organizations last year, a CNN anchor called him “the man of the hour.”
By some measure, evidently, he still is.
January 27th, 2010
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
This morning I posted Jeff Kaye’s latest article Air Force Doctor Gets Medal for Serving on Rendition Torture Flights. This reminded me that I never posted notices of other recent important articles of his, Racist Article in Spy Journal Calls for Killing 100,000 Muslim “Zealots” and CIA Experiments on U.S. Soldiers Linked to Torture Program. All well worth reading!
September 18th, 2009