Archive for the ‘torture’ Category

The Senate Torture Report

December 12, 2008

Cartoon by Simanca Osmani, Brazil.

I’ve written before about the Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training techniques, originally designed to help captured members of our military withstand torture, which were then used as “agressive” interrogation techniques of detainees in U.S. custody.

Well, yesterday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) released a report, “Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody (executive summary and conclusions)” which in major part looked at the influence of the SERE techniques.

The Committee concluded that the authorization of such techniques by senior officials was both a direct cause of detainee abuse and conveyed the message that it was okay to mistreat and degrade detainees in U.S. custody.

Levin said,

SERE training techniques were designed to give our troops a taste of what they might be subjected to if captured by a ruthless, lawless enemy so that they would be better prepared to resist. The techniques were never intended to be used against detainees in U.S. custody.

Senator McCain added,

The Committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated….The abuses at Abu Ghraib, GTMO and elsewhere cannot be chalked up to the actions of a few bad apples. Attempts by senior officials to pass the buck to low ranking soldiers while avoiding any responsibility for abuses are unconscionable. The message from top officials was clear; it was acceptable to use degrading and abusive techniques against detainees. Our investigation is an effort to set the record straight on this chapter in our history that has so damaged both America’s standing and our security. America needs to own up to its mistakes so that we can rebuild some of the good will that we have lost.

Kinda nice to have McCain2K back, now that he’s no longer running for prez and needs to kowtow to Mr. Bush in photo-ops where the later says he’s “wink” against torture, while issuing signing statements to the contrary.

In “Pack of Liars,” Dan Froomkin does a nice job over at the WaPo of summarizing the report, ading some additional background and linking to other coverage. As he writes,

Yesterday’s bipartisan Senate report on the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere doesn’t just lay out a clear line of responsibility starting with President Bush, it also exposes the administration’s repeated explanation for what happened as a pack of lies.

See also:


Holder looks to support civil liberties

November 18, 2008

Photo of Eric Holder Jr., Obama’s choice for AG and an assistant AG under Clinton, web page of the Homeland Security Institute.

No matter your critique, Holder looks like a refreshing change from Mukasey and Gonzalez before him. While Gonzalez was lining up taxpayer underwriting for his defense in the AG firing trial, Holder has been addressing (video) the The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) National Convention attendees Friday evening, saying the US must reverse “the disastrous course” set by the Bush administration and

  • close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay
  • declare without qualification that the U.S. does not torture people
  • end extaordinary renditions and
  • stop warrantless domestic surveillance.

He said,

Our needlessly abusive and unlawful practices in the ‘War on Terror’ have diminished our standing in the world community and made us less, rather than more, safe…For the sake of our safety and security, and because it is the right thing to do, the next president must move immediately to reclaim America’s standing in the world as a nation that cherishes and protects individual freedom and basic human rights.

ACS, founded in 2001, defines itself as

a network of lawyers, law students, scholars, judges, policymakers and other concerned individuals. Our mission is to ensure that fundamental principles of human dignity, individual rights and liberties, genuine equality, and access to justice enjoy their rightful, central place in American law.

Psychologists and torture

October 16, 2008

Photo illustration by Chris Mueller, Vanity Fair’s deputy art director, for Phillipe Sands’s May 2008 piece, “The Green Light. From left: Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith, then vice-presidential counsel David S. Addington, then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, President George W. Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who worked to change the U.S. policy on torture. Mueller has another piece, “The Gaza Bombshell, which you can view here.

I wrote on September 19 about the APA passing its resolution forbidding its members from participating in unlawful detention settings where the human rights of detainees are violatedure, such as Gitmo and elsewhere. After the organization initially seemed to be in delay mode, resulting in further protest, the APA president Alan E. Kazdin sent a letter October 2, to Mr. Bush outlining the resolution. October 10, Democracy Now featured an interview with psychologist Dan Aalbers, member of the the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology.

I had written June 17, 2008 about Senate hearings on the psychology of toruture and how Katherine Eban had broken the story in her special report in Vanity Fair July 17, 2007, “Rorschach and Awe.”

Phillipe Sands, a London international lawyer and professor’s piece, “The Green Light,” illustrated above, lays out detailed, extensive interviews, arguing high-level Bush administration lawyers broke their code of ethics and may be subject to criminal prosecution as were those tried at Nuremburg.

While he sometimes jumps to conclusions connecting the dots, he traces the lawyers’ advice and their bosses’ ’reactions, including a November 2002 “action memo” from Jim Haynes, general counsel of Defense Department, recommending “blanket approval” to 15 out of 18 proposed techniques of aggressive interrogation which Rumsfeld approved on December 2, adding “I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?

Dr. Abigail Seltzer, a London psychiatrist, who treats trauma victims for the National Health Service and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, provided that memo, a list of allowable techniques and the interrogation log for Mohammed al-Qahtani, which she had annotated as to ” episodes of abusive treatment,…[examples where] the detainee’s rights were respected,…instances of medical involvement,…and ‘expressions of distress.’” Her conclusion:

“over the period of 54 days there is enough evidence of distress to indicate that it would be very surprising indeed if it had not reached the threshold of severe mental pain.” The August 1, 2002 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel by Jay Bybee, now a federal judge, and John Yoo, now at Berkeley, was not “an academic exercise in blue-sky hypothesizing, but rather played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom.

UPDATE: October 18, Newsweek posted anOctober 27 article, “The Biscuit Breaker: Psychologist Steven Reisner has embarked on a crusade to get his colleagues out of the business of interrogations, ” by Dan Ephron.

The Psychology of Torture

September 19, 2008

Last year, The American Psychological Association called on the U.S. government to ban at

least 19 specific abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that are regarded as torture by international standards. The 2007 resolution also recognized that “torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment can result not only from the behavior of individuals, but also from the conditions of confinement,” and expressed “grave concern over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights.”

This year, according to a September 17 release, the APA passed a petition resolution stating that

psychologists may not work in settings where “persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights”

The final vote was 8,792 voting in favor of the resolution; 6,157 voting against the resolution. It will not take effect until August 2009; however, Psychologists for an Ethical APA, which sponsored the resolution and others, such as Withhold APA Dues, have pressed for a quicker implementation. The

John Birch Society: Bush Wants Torture

March 12, 2008

Despite opinion to the contrary, the prohibition of torture, while partisan, is not a left-right issue. For proof, see Ann Shibler’s piece today for the John Birch Society, “Bush Wants Torture.”

By failing to overturn the veto, it seems that 188 House members agree with President Bush who continues to support the idea that the government should be free to use torture. “I cannot sign into law a bill that would prevent me, and future presidents, from authorizing the CIA to conduct a separate, lawful intelligence program, and from taking all lawful actions necessary to protect Americans from attack,” he said.

In any case, there is nothing “lawful” or intelligent or “necessary” about waterboarding or any other torture techniques. And torture simply cannot “protect America from attacks.” The techniques are inhumane and immoral, and totally ineffective, but must somehow satisfy some primal instinct of lower human nature, or they wouldn’t be so popular with so many.

The fact is, America should be above the various and sundry barbarities, torture included, that seem to delight certain instincts in some. It is important, therefore, to know who amongst our legislators supports such uncivilized behavior so that, come next election, citizens who favor civilized behavior can vote accordingly.

You can check how your representative voted by clicking here. Notice the almost perfect partisan lines that were kept; know then, that is probably not about torture but partisan politics. And keep in mind that “Yeas” are good, meaning they voted to override Bush’s veto, and the “Nay’s” need to get a letter from their constituents, asking why they condone and vote for immoral and brutal treatment of other human beings when the folks back home understand torture when they see it, and want it stopped.

Or, as conservative Bob Barr wrote in the piece I referenced yesterday,

As a teenager, I loved to read comic books. Superman comics were my favorite. Among the many adversaries the Man of Steel faced (and always vanquished) was Bizarro World. In Bizarro World, everything was the opposite of that which prevailed in our world. Up was down, clean was dirty, black was white, good was bad … you get the picture.

Events of the past few years remind me more and more of Bizarro World, except now it’s not a comic-book world, it’s the real world. The effect of witnessing a federal government operating according to Bizarro World standards instead of those enshrined in our Constitution and legal system is truly frightening.

In no instance is this scenario clearer than when the current administration has addressed the matter of whether its agents have, since September 11, 2001, tortured prisoners.

I would add, that as a teenager, I found the John Birch Society, more than a little odd, when I attended an extra credit presentation for geography class at the Richard Byrd library near my home and heard a representative of the Society call The World Book Encyclopedia a communist plot. After all my beloved third grade teacher Mrs. Moore had sold us our copy.

So, like Mr. Barr, I find myself in Bizarro World or perhaps Through the Looking Glass when I find myself agreeing with the Birch Society. But things just get curiouser and curiouser.

Are schools following CIA’s lead in destroying evidence?

January 18, 2008

Cartoon from 12/12/07 by John Darkow (email) , cartoonist for the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune (archive.)

Patricia Wen’s (email) Boston Globe article,“Report says shock tapes destroyed against order,” caught my eye today. She writes about Judge Rotenberg Educational Center group home in Stoughton, where a video tape recorded staff administering 77 shocks, the to one emotionally disturbed teenager and 29 to another, with one of the students being placed in four-point restraints, limiting mobility of all four limbs. All this, after a “prankster” posing as a supervisor delivered supposed orders from the school’s director and a chief aide.

When the investigator with the Disabled Persons Protection Commission asked for a copy of the tapes she had viewed school officials said they did not

want any possibility of the images getting into the media.

The investigator directed the school to preserve a copy of the tapes for use by State Police conducting a criminal investigation, but was later told by a trooper that the school had failed to do so.

School spokesman, Ernest Corrigan, said that investigators from the commission held an “exit interview” on Sept. 30 with school staff, leading them to believe there was no more need to keep the tapes. The school;s founder said that the the school reuses the tapes after 30 days and thought that investigation “seemed to be finished.” He gave a similar explanation at the State House hearing on Wednesday on a bill to restrict shock treatments at the school.

According to a December 18 story by the same reporter, the center,

which serves about 250 adults and children from across the country, has been under fire for more than two decades for its unorthodox behavior-modification treatments, including electric shock treatments.

It’s ironic that I picked Darkow’s cartoon as an illustration for today’s post, as I later read in Drawn to Extremes that Darkow and his paper had been sued for his skewering of a school board candidate that preached the value of a return to corporal punishment. In something that sounds like it comes out of Stanley Milgram’s infamous experiment on obedience, Wen writes that the

shock devices, which are strapped to some students’ arms, legs, or torsos, deliver two-second electric jolts to the skin. The devices are controlled remotely by teachers.

Other things I’ve been reading today: