Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Chris Hedges, was posted to Common Dreams.org, October 26, 2009
Violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is wrong. So is violence against people in Afghanistan and Iraq. But in the bizarre culture of identity politics, there are no alliances among the oppressed. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the first major federal civil rights law protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, passed last week, was attached to a $680-billion measure outlining the Pentagon’s budget, which includes $130 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democratic majority in Congress, under the cover of protecting some innocents, authorized massive acts of violence against other innocents.
It was a clever piece of marketing. It blunted debate about new funding for war. And behind the closed doors of the caucus rooms, the Democratic leadership told Blue Dog Democrats, who are squeamish about defending gays or lesbians from hate crimes, that they could justify the vote as support for the war. They told liberal Democrats, who are squeamish about unlimited funding for war, that they could defend the vote as a step forward in the battle for civil rights. Gender equality groups, by selfishly narrowing their concern to themselves, participated in the dirty game.
“Every thinking person wants to take a stand against hate crimes, but isn’t war the most offensive of hate crimes?” asked Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who did not vote for the bill, when I spoke to him by phone. “To have people have to make a choice, or contemplate the hierarchy of hate crimes, is cynical. I don’t vote to fund wars. If you are opposed to war, you don’t vote to authorize or appropriate money. Congress, historically and constitutionally, has the power to fund or defund a war. The more Congress participates in authorizing spending for war, the more likely it is that we will be there for a long, long time. This reflects an even larger question. All the attention is paid to what President Obama is going to do right now with respect to Iraq and Afghanistan. The truth is the Democratic Congress could have ended the war when it took control just after 2006. We were given control of the Congress by the American people in November 2006 specifically to end the war. It did not happen. The funding continues. And while the attention is on the president, Congress clearly has the authority at any time to stop the funding. And yet it doesn’t. Worse yet, it finds other ways to garner votes for bills that authorize funding for war. The spending juggernaut moves forward, a companion to the inconscient force of war itself.”
The brutality of Matthew Shepard’s killers, who beat him to death for being gay, is a product of a culture that glorifies violence and sadism. It is the product of a militarized culture. We have more police, prisons, inmates, spies, mercenaries, weapons and troops than any other nation on Earth. Our military, which swallows half of the federal budget, is enormously popular—as if it is not part of government. The military values of hyper-masculinity, blind obedience and violence are an electric current that run through reality television and trash-talk programs where contestants endure pain while they betray and manipulate those around them in a ruthless world of competition. Friendship and compassion are banished.
This hyper-masculinity is at the core of pornography with its fusion of violence and eroticism, as well as its physical and emotional degradation of women. It is an expression of the corporate state where human beings are reduced to commodities and companies have become proto-fascist enclaves devoted to maximziing profit. Militarism crushes the capacity for moral autonomy and difference. It isolates us from each other. It has its logical fruition in Abu Ghraib, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with our lack of compassion for our homeless, our poor, our mentally ill, our unemployed, our sick, and yes, our gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual citizens.
Klaus Theweleit in his two volumes entitled “Male Fantasies,” which draw on the bitter alienation of demobilized veterans in Germany following the end of World War I, argues that a militarized culture attacks all that is culturally defined as the feminine, including love, gentleness, compassion and acceptance of difference. It sees any sexual ambiguity as a threat to male “hardness” and the clearly defined roles required by the militarized state. The continued support for our permanent war economy, the continued elevation of military values as the highest good, sustains the perverted ethic, rigid social roles and emotional numbness that Theweleit explored. It is a moral cancer that ensures there will be more Matthew Shepards.
Fascism, Theweleit argued, is not so much a form of government or a particular structuring of the economy or a system, but the creation of potent slogans and symbols that form a kind of psychic economy which places sexuality in the service of destruction. The “core of all fascist propaganda is a battle against everything that constitutes enjoyment and pleasure,” Theweleit wrote. And our culture, while it disdains the name of fascism, embraces its dark ethic.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, interviewed in 2003 by Charlie Rose, spoke in this sexualized language of violence to justify the war in Iraq, a moment preserved on YouTube (see video below):
“What they needed to see was American boys and girls going house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying, ‘Which part of this sentence don’t you understand?’ ” Friedman said. “ ‘You don’t think, you know we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we’re just gonna let it grow? Well, suck on this.’ That, Charlie, is what this war is about. We could have hit Saudi Arabia, it was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could.”
This is the kind of twisted logic the killers of Matthew Shepard would understand.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote, in words gay activists should have heeded, that exclusive preoccupation with personal concerns and indifference to the suffering of others beyond the self-identified group made fascism and the Holocaust possible.
“The inability to identify with others was unquestionably the most important psychological condition for the fact that something like Auschwitz could have occurred in the midst of more or less civilized and innocent people,” Adorno wrote. “What is called fellow traveling was primarily business interest: one pursues one’s own advantage before all else, and simply not to endanger oneself, does not talk too much. That is a general law of the status quo. The silence under the terror was only its consequence. The coldness of the societal monad, the isolated competitor, was the precondition, as indifference to the fate of others, for the fact that only very few people reacted. The torturers know this, and they put it to test ever anew.”
This article, by Mark Welsbrot, was published by The Guardian, October 26, 2009
What kind of a public debate can we have on the most vital issues of the day in the United States? A lot depends on the media, which determines how these issues are framed for most people.
Take the war in Afghanistan, which has been subject to major debate here lately, as Barack Obama has to decide whether to take the advice of his commanding officer in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and send tens of thousands more troops there, or heed public opinion, which actually favours an end to the war.
This month, one of America's most important and most-watched TV news programmes, NBC's Meet the Press, took up the issue. The lineup:
Retired General Barry McCaffrey, former army general and drug tsar (under Bill Clinton) turned defence industry lobbyist. In a news article on McCaffrey titled "One man's military-industrial-media complex", the New York Times reported that McCaffrey had "earned at least $500,000 from his work for Veritas Capital, a private equity firm in New York that has grown into a defence industry powerhouse by buying contractors whose profits soared from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." McCaffrey has appeared on NBC more than 1000 times since 11 September 2001.
Retired General Richard Myers, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under George Bush (2002-2005). He is currently on the board of directors of Northrop Grumman Corporation, one of the largest military contractors in the world, and also of United Technologies Corporation, another large military contractor.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, a pro-war spokesperson that is one of the most regular guests on the Sunday talkshows.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat, was apparently intended to represent the "other side" of the debate. Here is what he said: "Clearly we should keep the number of forces that we have. No one's talking about removing forces."
"No one" in the above sentence refers to the American people, whom Levin understandably sees as nobody in the eyes of the US media and political leaders. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 32% of those polled wanted US troops out of Afghanistan within one year or right now. That was the largest group. Another 24% wants the troops "removed within one to two years". For comparison, the leadership of the Taliban is willing to grant foreign troops 18 months to get out of their country.
In other words, a majority of 56% of Americans wants US troops out of Afghanistan about as soon as is practically feasible or even sooner. Yet Meet the Press – a mainstream network news talkshow since 1947 – does not see fit to find one person to represent that point of view. The other major TV and radio talkshows that the right also labels "liberal" in the US make similar choices almost every day.
When asked whether the US should set a timeline for withdrawal, Levin answered "no".
I know, if you have enough time you can still find an anti-war, public-interest viewpoint and the facts to support it – on the internet and even among some of the news stories in major media publications. But most Americans have other full-time jobs.
If the media's influence stopped there, the damage would be limited. After all, Americans can often still overcome the tutelage of the media's opinion leaders, as the above poll demonstrates. But the media also defines the debate for politicians. And that is where the life-and-death consequences really kick in.
If you want to know why Obama has not fought for a public option for healthcare reform, why he has caved to Wall Street on financial reform, why he has been Awol on the most important labour law reform legislation in 75 years (despite his campaign promises), just look at the major media. Think for a moment of how they would treat him if he did what his voters wanted him to do. You can be sure that Obama has thought it through very carefully.
Obama's whole political persona is based on media strategy, and on not taking any risk that the major media would turn against him. That is how he got where he is today and how he hopes to be re-elected. Many analysts confuse this with a strategy based on public opinion polling. But as we can see, these are often two different things.
Seventy-five percent of Americans support a public option for healthcare reform. (A majority would support expanding Medicare to cover everyone, but over the years the media, insurance and pharmaceutical companies made sure that this option didn't make it to the current debate.)
Obama has the bully pulpit. He could say to the rightwing Democrats in the Senate: "Look, you can vote against my proposals, but if you do not allow your president to even have a vote on this reform, you are not a Democrat." In other words, you can't join the Republicans in blocking the vote procedurally.
He could probably force Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, to join him in enforcing this minimal party discipline that would come naturally to Republicans, which would allow the healthcare bill to pass the Senate even if conservative Democrats voted against it.
But to do that would risk losing some of Obama's post-partisan, non-ideological aura that guarantees his media support. Of course, the media is not the only influence that hobbles healthcare reform. The insurance, pharmaceutical and other business lobbies obviously have more representation in Congress than does the majority of the electorate. But Obama does not feel this direct corporate pressure nearly as much. After all, he was the first president in recent decades to get 48% of his campaign contributions from donations of less than $200 – a very significant change in American politics, made possible though internet organising.
There are other powerful elite groupings, such as the foreign policy establishment – which is more ideologically driven, like the medieval church, than a collection of lobbying interests – that thwart reform on issues of war and peace. But the major media remain one of the biggest challenges to progressive reform in the 21st century.
This article, by Glenn Greenwald, was published by Salon Magazine, October 24, 2009
Something very unusual happened on The Washington Post Editorial Page today: they deigned to address a response from one of their readers, who "challenged [them] to explain what he sees as a contradiction in [their] editorial positions": namely, the Post demands that Obama's health care plan not be paid for with borrowed money, yet the very same Post Editors vocally support escalation in Afghanistan without specifying how it should be paid for. "Why is it okay to finance wars with debt, asks our reader, but not to pay for health care that way?"
The Post editors give two answers. They first claim that Obama will save substantial money by reducing defense spending -- by which they mean that he is merely decreasing the rate at which defense spending increases ("from 2008 to 2019, defense spending would increase only 17 percent") -- as well as withdrawing from Iraq. But so what? Even if those things really happen, we're still paying for our glorious, endless war in Afghanistan by borrowing the money from China and Japan, all of which continues to explode our crippling national debt. We have absolutely no ability to pay for our Afghan adventure other than by expanding our ignominious status as the largest and most insatiable debtor nation which history has ever known. That debt gravely bothers Beltway elites like the Post editors when it comes to providing ordinary Americans with basic services (which Post editors already enjoy), but it's totally irrelevant to them when it comes to re-fueling the vicarious joys of endless war.
The Post attempts to justify that disparity with their second answer, which perfectly captures the prevailing, and deeply warped, Beltway thinking: namely, escalating in Afghanistan is an absolute national necessity, while providing Americans with health care coverage is just a luxury that can wait:
All this assumes that defense and health care should be treated equally in the national budget. We would argue that they should not be . . . Universal health care, however desirable, is not "fundamental to the defense of our people." Nor is it a "necessity" that it be adopted this year: Mr. Obama chose to propose a massive new entitlement at a time of historic budget deficits. In contrast, Gen. McChrystal believes that if reinforcements are not sent to Afghanistan in the next year, the war may be lost, with catastrophic consequences for U.S. interests in South Asia. U.S. soldiers would continue to die, without the prospect of defeating the Taliban. And, as Mr. Obama put it, "if left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans."
Actually, a recent study from the Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance documented that "nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance" in America. Whatever the exact number, nobody doubts that lack of health insurance causes thousands of Americans to die every year. If you're Fred Hiatt and you already have health insurance, it's easy to dismiss those deaths as unimportant, "not fundamental," not a "necessity" to tend to any time soon. No matter your views on Obama's health care reform plan, does it really take any effort to see how warped that dismissive mentality is?
But it becomes so much worse when one considers what we're ostensibly going to do in Afghanistan as part of our venerated "counter-insurgency" mission. In an amazingly enlightening interview with Frontline, military expert Andrew Bacevich explains what that supposedly entails:
I think the best way to understand the term "counterinsurgency" is to understand what the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps today mean by that term. What they mean is an approach to warfare in which success is to be gained not by destroying the enemy but by securing the population.
The term "securing" here means not simply keeping the people safe, but providing for the people a series of services -- effective governance, economic development, education, the elimination of corruption, the protection of women's rights. That translates into an enormously ambitious project of nation building. . . .
John Nagl says that in effect we are engaged in a global counterinsurgency campaign. That's his description of the long war.
Now, think about it. If counterinsurgency, according to current doctrine, is all about securing the population, if securing the population implies not simply keeping them safe but providing people with good governance and economic development and education and so on, what then is the requirement of a global counterinsurgency campaign?
Are we called upon to keep ourselves safe? To prevent another 9/11? Are we called upon to secure the population of the entire globe? Given the success we've had thus far in securing the population in Iraq and in Afghanistan, does this idea make any sense whatsoever?
Can anybody possibly believe that the United States of America, ... facing a federal budget deficit of $1.8 trillion ... has the resources necessary to conduct a global counterinsurgency campaign? Over what? The next 20, 50, 80 years? I think [there] is something so preposterous about such proposals. I just find it baffling that they are treated with seriousness by supposedly serious people.
So according to The Washington Post, dropping bombs on, controlling and occupying Afghanistan -- all while simultaneously ensuring "effective governance, economic development, education, the elimination of corruption, the protection of women's rights" to Afghan citizens in Afghanistan -- is an absolutely vital necessity that must be done no matter the cost. But providing basic services (such as health care) to American citizens, in the U.S., is a secondary priority at best, something totally unnecessary that should wait for a few years or a couple decades until we can afford it and until our various wars are finished, if that ever happens. "U.S. interests in South Asia" are paramount; U.S. interests in the welfare of those in American cities, suburbs and rural areas are an afterthought.
As demented as that sounds, isn't that exactly the priority scheme we've adopted as a country? We're a nation that couldn't even manage to get clean drinking water to our own citizens who were dying in the middle of New Orleans. We have tens of thousands of people dying every year because they lack basic health care coverage. The rich-poor gap continues to expand to third-world levels. And The Post claims that war and "nation-building" in Afghanistan are crucial while health care for Americans is not because "wars, unlike entitlement programs, eventually come to an end." Except, as Bacevich points out, that's false:
Post-Vietnam, the officer corps was committed to the proposition that wars should be infrequent, that they should be fought only for the most vital interests, and that they should be fought in a way that would produce a quick and decisive outcome.
What we have today in my judgment is just the inverse of that. War has become a permanent condition.
Beltway elites have health insurance and thus the costs and suffering for those who don't are abstract, distant and irrelevant. Identically, with very rare exception, they and their families don't fight the wars they cheer on -- and don't even pay for them -- and thus get to enjoy all the pulsating benefits without any costs whatsoever. Adam Smith, all the way back in 1776, in An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations, described this Beltway attitude exactly:
In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies . . .
Lounging around in the editorial offices in the capital of a rapidly decaying empire, urging that more Americans be sent into endless war paid for with endless debt, while yawning and lazily waving away with boredom the hordes outside dying for lack of health care coverage, is one of the most repugnant images one can imagine. It's exactly what Adam Smith denounced. And it's exactly what our political and media elite are.
This article, by Harvey Wassereman, was published by the Rag Blog, October 24, 2009
Some military coups are still done the old-fashioned way. Tanks surround the capital, generals grab the radio station, the slaughter begins.
Here, the Declaration of Independence scorned King George III for elevating his army over our colonial legislatures. The founders opposed a standing army. Our first Commander George Washington warned against military entanglements. So did Dwight Eisenhower nearly two centuries later. These "quaint" monuments to civilian rule form the core of our constitutional culture.
So when the Pentagon wants to trash inconvenient opposition and escalate yet another war, it seeks subtler means. For example: the "virtual coup" now being staged in league with the New York Times, aimed at plunging us catastrophically deeper into Afghanistan.
It's how they drove us into the abyss in Vietnam and Iraq. It demands we decide who will rule -- the Pentagon, or the public.
It was the military's manipulative misreporting in Vietnam that fueled Lyndon Johnson's 1965 disastrous escalation. With the much-medalled William Westmoreland front and center, the Pentagon concocted a non-existent attack in the Gulf of Tonkin, warned that a communist victory would bring on the Apocalypse, told LBJ he could win, and ran its occupation army up to 550,000 troops.
When its last advisors fled in shame off that Saigon rooftop, the Pentagon blamed those who had opposed the war from the start. It assaulted the heroic independent reporters who exposed the war's true horrors. It even attacked the corporate media that had been its willing partner in the war's creation.
To its credit, the Times broke from its early support, making welcome history by publishing the Pentagon Papers, among much else. As today, it published opposing views all the way through.
But its big guns enlisted again in Iraq. The Bush Administration needed no convincing, but the American public did. Led by warhawk cheerleaders Thomas Friedman and Judith Miller, the Journal of Record sold a war based on Weapons of Mass Destruction and Dick Cheney's "grateful" Iraqi citizenry, both of which were non-existent.
Today central casting has brought us Stanley McChrystal to rerun the role of Westmoreland/Cheney. Now the hero of an endless stream of hauntingly familiar puff pieces, the General's carefully leaked "secret" demand for "a bare minimum" of 40,000 more troops to avoid "mission failure" has become the ultimate blackmail note, the core of a virtual coup in the making.
It comes as the Times concocts a report on "frustrations and anxiety [that] are on the rise within the military." Among “active duty and retired senior officers” there is "concern that the president is moving too slowly, is revisiting a war strategy he announced in March and is unduly influenced by political advisers in the Situation Room."
"Unduly influenced by political advisers?" Does this mean that for the Commander in Chief, elected by the people of the United States, advice is duly acceptable only from hawks in uniform?
Joining Tom Friedman (again!) is the Times's Roger Cohen, who says Obama needs "endurance" because if we lose in "Afghanistan, Pakistan and Pashtunistan" there "would be a disaster for Western security."
Sub in "Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos" and you can be reminded that our military is again backing a cabal of world-class heroin dealers.
And would the "loss" of AfPak, whatever that means, be a greater "disaster for Western security" than another trillion dollars diverted from education, health care, the environment, and domestic employment in a nation in deep financial chaos?
McChrystal is certainly entitled to his First Amendment rights. But so far, the American public is not buying. Polls show the country deeply divided, with slight majorities opposed to McChrystal's demand for more troops. That means, there is nothing like the public consensus that should be required for any military excursion.
The key may be the money. In the booming sixties, we could "afford" to blow $100 billion or more on a futile, senseless war merely by bankrupting our health care system, blowing college tuitions through the roof, sacking our infrastructure, failing to upgrade our grid and power systems, debasing our currency, falling from an exporting powerhouse to an import addict, and much more.
The Pentagon's gratuitous squander of another trillion in Iraq has helped squeeze the last of that "fat" out of our economy. A U.S. far beyond the brink of bankruptcy is being told to "stay the course" in the Graveyard of Great Powers, a country the size of Texas, a deathtrap to every invader for the past 2,300 years, including the Soviet Union. Pakistan is about twice the size of California. AfPak together have more than 200,000,000 people, more than 2/3 the population of the U.S.
Official military reports say there are about 100 members of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Despite the global nature of terrorism we are allegedly there to stamp out, no other nation seems compelled to join us there in any meaningful way.
Obama was elected in large part because the American public has sensed that -- unlike his predecessor or opponent -- he is intelligent enough to grasp all this. He ran promising a full commitment in Afghanistan. Now he has dared to take his time making a final decision. But will he have the courage to stand against the brass at crunch time?
Robert Gates, the Bush holdover at Defense, who won't set a timetable for withdrawal, has gone public with his demand for more troops. As Yale's David Bromwich puts it, the brass at The Times wants "a large escalation in Afghanistan. The paper has been made nervous by signs that the president may not make the big push for a bigger war; and they are showing what the rest of his time in office will be like if he does not cooperate."
In other words, the virtual tanks have again surrounded the White House.
We cannot let them win. Another bloody, trillion-dollar Lone Ranger fiasco will definitively end any hope for health care, employment, education, the environment, a decent life for our children.
As usual, the Pentagon will be enriched and empowered. We will be impoverished and disenfranchised. Isn't that what coups are all about?
So when the military and its minions demand we defer to their "experts," we might recall the Cuban Missile Crisis. At its most terrifying peak, President John Kennedy -- himself genuine war hero -- polled the Joint Chiefs on how to respond to Soviet warheads in the western hemisphere. The generals unanimously demanded a nuclear attack. Thankfully, the president and his brother, the Attorney General, stood their ground.
Obama must now do the same. There are nuances in all global conflicts. But in an electronic age, when perception means virtually everything, the question is not just what happens in Afghanistan.
It is who rules here at home -- the Pentagon, or the public.
This open letter, from the National Lawyers Guild, was posted to the Atlantic Free Press, October 10, 2009
We, the undersigned, are writing to request that you hold firm against any attempts by former Vice President Dick Cheney, the CIA directors, and the media to silence those who demand that the United States hold accountable those who have committed and authorized torture.
We call on you to appoint a special independent prosecutor who is not part of the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute all those who ordered, approved, justified, abetted or carried out the torture and abuse. The people who are held accountable should not be limited to low-level operatives.
We are particularly disturbed by the efforts of the reporters at the Washington Post to distort the facts and ignore the illegality of torture. They cited anonymous sources who allegedly said that torture works; these “reports” contradict the newly released report of the CIA’s Inspector General.
Cheney’s claim that your decision to open an investigation into the conduct of the CIA is a politicization of this issue is shameful. If anything, political pressure has led to your office taking too narrow an approach to the investigation.
The world community has expressed its revulsion at the use of torture in any form. Torture is illegal under all circumstances. The prohibition against torture is considered in international law on par with laws against genocide, slavery and wars of aggression. Under the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, it is a crime against humanity.
The United States is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and the Geneva Conventions. Both treaties expressly require the United States to either extradite or initiate prosecution of persons who are reasonably accused – this is a legal obligation. The U.S. Torture Statute that Congress passed to fulfill our obligations under the CAT outlaws torture committed outside the United States. The U.S. War Crimes Act punishes torture as a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. In 2006, the Supreme Court affirmed in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that all prisoners in U.S. custody are protected by the Geneva Conventions.
There are many who claim we should ignore the facts and the law and refuse to hold accountable all those responsible for the use of torture. Whether actionable intelligence was gained is not the issue. Nor is the morale in the CIA.
We believe the oath of office you took requires that you not pick and choose those laws you will enforce.
National Lawyers Guild
Center for Constitutional Rights
U.S. Human Rights Network
American Association of Jurists
International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Psychologists for Social Responsibility
The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International
Lawyers Against the War (Canada)
Japanese Lawyers International Solidarity Association
National Association of Democratic Lawyers in South Africa
European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights
Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers (England)
Progress Lawyers Network (Belgium)
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (Philippines)
Italian Association of Democratic Lawyers
Marjorie Cohn, President, National Lawyers Guild; Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Michael Ratner, President, Center for Constitutional Rights
Bill Quigley, Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights
Ajamu Baraka, Executive Director, US Human Rights Network
Jeanne Mirer, President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Roland Weyl, First Vice President, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Micòl Savia, UN representative in Geneva, International Association of Democratic Lawyers
Vanessa Ramos, President, American Association of Jurists
Max Boqwana, General Secretary, National Association of Democratic Lawyers in South Africa
Mike Mansfield QC, President, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Liz Davies, barrister, UK, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Richard Harvey, Bureau member of International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Executive member, Haldane Society.
Bill Bowring, Professor of Law, University of London; President, European Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights; International Secretary, Haldane Society
Sister Dianna Ortiz, U.S. Torture Survivor and founder of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International
Harold Nelson, Advocacy Coordinator, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International
Gail Davidson, Chair, Lawyers Against the War
Osamu Niikura, President, Japanese Lawyers International Solidarity Association
Edre Olalia, Vice President, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
Neri Colmenares, Secretary General, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers
Jan Fermon, representative, Progress Lawyers Network
Fabio Marcelli, Executive Committee and Speaker for International and European Affairs, Italian Association of Democratic Lawyers
George Hunsinger, Princeton Theological Seminary
Richard Falk, Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University
Dr. Thomas Ehrlich Reifer, University of San Diego; Associate Fellow, Transnational Institute
Jordan J. Paust, Mike and Teresa Baker Law Center Professor, University of Houston Law Center
Terry Karl, Gildred Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies Department of Political Science, Stanford University
Marc Falkoff, Assistant Professor, Northern Illinois University College of Law
John W. Lango, Philosophy Professor, Hunter College of the City University of New York
Elizabeth M. Iglesias Professor of Law & Director, Center for Hispanic & Caribbean Legal Studies, University of Miami School of Law
Ray McGovern, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
Michael Avery, Professor, Suffolk Law School
Michael E. Tigar, Professor of the Practice of Law, Duke Law School; Emeritus Professor, Washington College of Law
Andy Worthington, journalist and author of "The Guantanamo Files"
Michael Rooke-Ley, Professor of Law Emeritus, Nova Southeastern University
William J. Aceves, Professor, California Western School of Law
Phyllis Bennis, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies
Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor, retired, Dept of Linguistics & Philosophy, MIT
Alfred W. McCoy, J.R.W. Smail Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Susan Rutberg, Professor, Golden Gate University School of Law
John Ehrenberg, Professor and Chair of Political Science, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY
Radhika Balakrishnan, Professor, Rutgers University
David Swanson, author of “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency"
Kristina Borjesson, Member, Robert Jackson Steering Committee Institute for Victims of Trauma
This article, by John Prados,was published by Foreign Policy in Focus, October 03, 2009
Former CIA director Michael Hayden played a key role in organizing support among his predecessors for the letter a group of them sent last week demanding that President Barack Obama end or curtail the Justice Department investigation into abuses by CIA interrogators during the Bush years. This initiative comes on top of months of active campaigning during which Hayden pressed the same point from every soapbox he could find.
Attorney General Eric Holder would be justified in wondering why General Hayden is so determined to suppress this investigation. The public is entitled to ask the same question. Hayden effectively argues for secret government and against accountability. His arguments are a disturbing carryover from the Bush administration and its violation of domestic and international law. Tortuous Arguments Sent to the president on September 18, the letter was signed by General Hayden, his Bush-era predecessors Porter J. Goss and George J. Tenet, and former CIA bosses John M. Deutch, R. James Woolsey, William J. Webster, and James R. Schlesinger. They argue that the torture investigation currently undertaken by the Justice Department sets a bad precedent to reopen matters settled by a previous administration and that "zeal on the part of some to uncover every action taken" might incline our foreign allies not to share intelligence with the CIA because "they simply cannot rely upon our promises of secrecy."
Both arguments are significantly misleading. Both featured prominently in General Hayden’s earlier attempts to head off the investigation that Attorney General Holder ordered on August 24. And both seek to cloak CIA misdeeds behind fatuous appeals to national security.
The Hayden argument about foreign cooperation, for instance, is a favorite CIA smokescreen. Since the agency conducts 90% of its operations in cooperation with foreign services this is an all-purpose excuse. The other side of the coin is that the CIA frequently denies information to foreign services. The stories of the British, Australian, Israeli, French, and Danish reviews of pre-Iraq war intelligence are full of notes on all the data that the CIA withheld from them. Lack of CIA cooperation has brought legal prosecutions in Britain, Germany, Canada, and Italy to a halt. In short, CIA cooperation with allied intelligence services has been uneven and self-interested. Plain calculations of the advantage in collaborating with the CIA are far more important drivers of states’ propensity to work alongside us than simple issues of the protection of classified information. And the use of secrecy to hide illegal activity itself adds to the damage. In Great Britain both the foreign and domestic intelligence services (MI-6 and MI-5) are currently being investigated for collaborating with the CIA on "interrogations." The best way to limit the impact of scandal has long been to get the bad news out as quickly as possible — the cover-up is worse than the crime.
As for the Justice Department’s "zeal" to uncover this sordid record, the investigation so far is not the result of some rush to judgment but of patient digging by a host of reporters and commentators. Our honorable spymasters resisted this probe at every turn. For instance, the original revelation of the CIA’s "black prisons," Dana Priest’s story in the Washington Post on November 2, 2005, identified a facility in Afghanistan called the "Salt Pit" as the largest such prison in the country. Priest also reported the death of an inmate there at the hands of an inexperienced CIA officer. Agency officials probably began destroying the videotapes of the CIA interrogation sessions within days of the story’s publication. Porter Goss, the CIA director at the time, reportedly opposed this obstruction of justice (the tapes had been subpoenaed for the trial of alleged terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, and the CIA filed a written declaration that they did not exist). But Goss never appeared before the congressional intelligence committees to explain these circumstances. In fact, Goss briefed Congress only once on CIA interrogations — to say that the agency was awaiting new Department of Justice analyses of the legality of torture.
Under George Tenet, another signatory of the Hayden Letter, the black prisons and interrogation programs got started. Tenet issued directives for conducting these programs in January 2003, according to the recently declassified CIA Inspector General’s report on the interrogations. The documented cases of detainee deaths took place during Tenet’s tenure. Tales of "renditions, "ghost planes," and more were already becoming legion. A Muslim cleric was kidnapped off the street in Italy. But Tenet appeared at a congressional briefing only once, in September 2003.
As for Jim Woolsey, he was one of the neocon cheerleaders for war with Iraq and a primary booster of the fabrication that Saddam Hussein, in league with al-Qaeda, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Iraq brought us Abu Ghraib.
There is also a glaring omission. Admiral Stansfield Turner, who tried to craft a regime of intelligence within the law after the Church-Pike era, is found nowhere on the Hayden Letter. Turner no doubt preserved a sense that intelligence scandals only fester until they are laid open to the light of day. Hayden’s Record From the beginning Michael Hayden strove to contain the torture scandal. He took over the CIA only three months before President George W. Bush, bowing to white-hot controversy in September 2006, acknowledged the black prisons, closed them, and sent the remaining detainees to Guantánamo Bay. Hayden went from a congressional appearance that July at which he anticipated reviving CIA interrogations, to a marathon day of half a dozen briefings of lawmakers when Bush brought down the ax. Hayden actually presided over 15 of the 22 CIA events he staged for Congress prior to the Obama presidency. He ordered a security investigation of the CIA Inspector General. He sought fresh Justice Department opinions on the legality of torture. Through it all, Hayden argued that there was nothing to investigate in the CIA interrogation program — and had the temerity to cite the Bush Justice Department as his authority. This department repeatedly pronounced torture legal during the Bush years. A Justice Department decision to investigate would have been tantamount to rejecting its own legal arguments — and these were the same people who fired federal prosecutors to enforce a certain political line. Those legal positions and political tendencies without question cloud the Bush Justice Department decisions against prosecuting any but the most egregious torture cases — as well as the prosecutors’ failure to pursue accountability up the chain of command.
The general has an awfully tin ear for the public. At a mid-September conference in Geneva sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Hayden argued that besides the usual technical and legal considerations, intelligence activities need to be "politically sustainable." The CIA interrogation program was inherently controversial because it went against the grain of traditional American values — it was never politically sustainable. The notion that refusing to investigate these excesses can make them go away would be laughable if it were not so disturbing.
Most people have a rule for when they get into a hole: stop digging. Evidently Michael Hayden’s rule is to dig deeper. The Hayden approach of hiding behind secrecy will virtually guarantee that this scandal deepens and becomes more sinister.
This editorial, by Clara Gutteridge, was published by The Guardian, September 11, 2009
The foreign secretary, David Miliband, today admitted that MI6 had referred "a case" to the attorney general, involving complicity in torture by one of its agents operating abroad. In a letter to the shadow foreign secretary, Miliband reveals little else, except that the torture happened in an undisclosed foreign country; and unlike the tranche of recent cases where MI5 agents have been accused of complicity in torture, the victim in this case was not a UK national, or a UK resident.
There are many instances of individuals known to have been held in US secret prisons where it would have been a grave dereliction of duty for the British intelligence services not to have been involved in questioning the prisoners.
One such example is Abu Zubayda, accused of being an al-Qaida facilitator, arranging travel for would-be jihadists from the UK, among other countries, to attend training camps in Afghanistan. We also know that Abu Zubaydah was tortured by the US – he was waterboarded 83 times – and that during his interrogation, he implicated people who have turned out to be innocent. He was saying what he thought his torturers wanted to hear. And herein lies the question: were UK agents involved in the interrogation of people such as Abu Zubaydah – in principle, they should have been – and if they were, what did they do about his torture?
My bet is that they were involved, and that they did nothing about the torture, and that information about their activities is starting to leak out as things start to open up in the US with the various inquiries into torture and abuse getting under way across the Atlantic. Just as the US military attempted to blame the systematic abuse at Abu Ghraib on a few "bad apples" acting beyond their orders, the British government appears to be trying to ringfence the rising tide of evidence of its complicity in torture abroad.
To refer an individual agent for investigation by the attorney general conveniently places the blame squarely on the shoulders of a subordinate, and keeps people higher up the chain, including government ministers, out of the picture.
If there is one thing we should have learned from the various official reports and documents that have been released since Obama took office, it is that the abuse that has taken place in the name of "counter-terror" in the past eight years was anything but the actions of a few rogue agents. Rather, in the US at least, the torture was institutionalised. We now know that techniques such as almost drowning people, slamming their heads against walls and staging mock executions were operational norms in US prisons abroad. We also know that the torture programme was systematic, ordered from the top, and that it involved professionals – doctors, psychologists and lawyers.
Against such a cultural backdrop – one that legitimised and bureaucratised torture – it is looking increasingly untenable that British government ministers were unaware of what was going on, or that UK agents colluding in this programme were acting beyond orders.
Thus, as the government has tried to do with the MI5 agent who was involved in interrogating Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan, this recent referral is likely just a last-ditch attempt by the those in command to avoid justice. It is about time the leaders of our country stopped attempting to scapegoat a few unfortunate field agents and started to answer some questions about exactly how the Britain became the sort of country that is involved in torture.
This ... white paper, published August 31, 2009, after the new release of the May 2004 CIA Inspector General's report, shows that the extent to which American doctors and psychologists violated human rights and betrayed the ethical standards of their professions by designing, implementing, and legitimizing a worldwide torture program is worse than previously known.
A team of PHR doctors authored the white paper, which details how the CIA relied on medical expertise to rationalize and carry out abusive and unlawful interrogations. It also refers to aggregate collection of data on detainees’ reaction to interrogation methods. Physicians for Human Rights is concerned that this data collection and analysis may amount to human experimentation and calls for more investigation on this point. If confirmed, the development of a research protocol to assess and refine the use of the waterboard or other techniques would likely constitute a new, previously unknown category of ethical violations committed by CIA physicians and psychologists. (click here to read original report)
Introduction The version of the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report released on August 24, 2009 provides greater detail on the central role that health professionals played in the CIA’s torture program and reveals a level of ethical misconduct that had not previously come to light.
The report confirms that the CIA inflicted torture on detainees interrogated while in US custody as part of the agency’s counterterrorism activities and exposes additional interrogation techniques that had not yet been reported. It also demonstrates that health professionals were involved at every stage in the development, implementation and legitimization of this torture program.
The doctors and psychologists who laid the foundation upon which attorneys rationalized an illegal program of torture also actively participated in abusive and illegal interrogations, thus betraying the ethical standards of their professions by contributing to physical and mental suffering and anguish. The very premise of health professional involvement in abusive interrogations — that they have a role in safeguarding detainees — is an unconscionable affront to the profession of medicine.
The Inspector General’s report also reveals that medical professionals were directed to meticulously monitor the waterboarding of detainees to try to improve the technique’s effectiveness, essentially using the detainees as human subjects, a practice that approaches unlawful experimentation.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has prepared the following analysis of the Inspector General’s report, building on the 2007 report by PHR and Human Rights First (HRF), Leave No Marks, which assessed interrogation techniques reported up to that time, which have now been confirmed by the Inspector General’s report. This paper provides an introductory summary of techniques newly described in the Inspector General’s report and then offers a more detailed medical analysis of those techniques. The paper then reviews the various ways health professionals were complicit in enabling the torture regime. Summary of Newly Detailed Techniques
The Inspector General’s report describes several forms of abuse not previously reported that CIA interrogators and contractors implemented, and that from a medical and legal perspective constitute torture. These include:
Mock executions and threatening detainees by brandishing handguns and power drills;
Threatening the detainee with harm to his family members including sexual assault of female family members, and murder of detainee’s children; and
Physical abuse including the application of pressure to the arteries on the sides of a detainee’s neck resulting in near loss of consciousness, and tackling or hard takedowns.
These methods have significant harmful physical and mental health consequences.
The report provides new details about previously reported forms of abuse referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The harmful health consequences of these forms of torture and abuse have previously been described by PHR, including in the reports Break Them Down, Leave No Marks and Broken Laws, Broken Lives.” (1)
The Inspector General’s report clearly questions the efficacy, ethics and legality of these as well as the previously mentioned “enhanced interrogation techniques”. The report also confirms the theory of a “slippery slope” in interrogation settings, namely that torture by its very nature escalates in the severity and frequency of its use beyond the approved techniques.
Medical Analysis of the Interrogation Techniques Described in the Inspector General’s Report
The adverse physical and mental health effects of stripping (forced nudity), isolation, white noise or loud music, continuous light or darkness (sensory deprivation), temperature manipulation, stress positions, sleep deprivation, attention slap, abdominal slap, stress positions and waterboarding have been previously described in the Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First report Leave No Marks. The following medical analysis focuses on techniques not previously reviewed by PHR.
As with the techniques previously analyzed, it is important to understand two key points. First, while the techniques are evaluated individually, these techniques were designed to be used in combination in a way that enhanced pain and stress.
Second, to comprehend the severity of the effects of these techniques, it is essential to consider the context of their use. In terms of both long and short term psychological effect, there is no meaningful equivalence between waterboarding when used as part of survival training of service men who have volunteered and consented to the procedure and who know that they are in an environment where they trust the mock interrogator to protect their safety and may stop the procedure at any time, and waterboarding of a high value detainee in a black site where the detainee is in actual fear for his life and safety. As the Inspector General’s report indicates:
“One of the psychologist/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the [waterboarding] technique differed from that used in SERE training and explained that the Agency’s technique is different because it is ‘for real’ and is more poignant and convincing.” (2)
Analysis of New Approved Techniques Revealed in Inspector General’s Report
The additional approved techniques listed in the Inspector General’s report and not previously analyzed by PHR include shaving, hooding, restricted diet, prolonged diapering, “walling” and confinement boxes.
As with the previously reviewed techniques, while these techniques can have harmful physical as well as mental health effects, their chief objective is to produce psychological impact, and their chief risk is prolonged mental pain and suffering. 1. Forced shaving
Forced shaving of the head and beard was alleged by two of the fourteen detainees interviewed by the ICRC for its 2007 report.
Mr. Ramzi Bin-al-Shib alleged that, in his eighth place of detention, first his head was shaved and then some days later his beard was also shaved off. He was particularly distressed by the fact that the people who shaved him allegedly deliberately left some spots and spaces in order to make him look and feel particularly undignified and abused. (3)
In 2007, PHR physicians examined a former US detainee, who reported:
“When they finished hitting me... they shaved my hair. The only hair I had was in the middle. This was only to humiliate me.” (4)
Medical Analysis: Forced shaving obviously carries little risk of physical harm, and is chiefly designed to inflict psychological harm by means of humiliation, both personal and religious. Forced shaving was part of a campaign to sever the sense of self derived from religious belief, and was often accompanied by forced removal of religious articles.
In addition to the violation of cultural and religious taboos, forced shaving constitutes an intrusion into the personal space and bodily integrity of the person, infringing on autonomy and self-control. The combined effects of this type of treatment in combination with other techniques have been associated with long-lasting psychological injury such as posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. 2. Hooding
Detainees were blindfolded or hooded to instill in them a sense of fear, disorientation and dependency on their captors.
According to the February 2004 report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on treatment of detainees in Iraq:
Hooding [was] used to prevent people from seeing and to disorient them, and also to prevent them from breathing freely. One, or sometimes two bags, sometimes with an elastic blindfold over the eyes which, when slipped down, further impeded proper breathing. Hooding was sometimes used in conjunction with beatings thus increasing anxiety as to when blows would came. The practice of hooding also allowed the interrogators to remain anonymous and thus to act with impunity. Hooding could last for periods from a few hours to up to 2 to 4 consecutive days, during which hoods were lifted only for drinking, eating or going to the toilets.(5)
PHR reported in Broken Laws, Broken Lives that according to former detainees medically evaluated by PHR, hooding was used both during transportation and during interrogation.
Medical Analysis: When not used in transport, hooding is a form of sensory deprivation aimed at causing dislocation and confusion. Research shows that prolonged sensory deprivation can result in depression, depersonalization and psychosis. According to the ICRC report, hooding, and other observed sensory deprivation techniques resulted in
“signs of concentration difficulties, memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, abnormal behavior and suicidal tendencies.”(6)
3. dietary Manipulation
Detainees were deprived of solid food for periods ranging from days to months. Mr. Abu Zubaydah alleged that for a period of two to three weeks during his initial period of interrogation, he was kept sitting on a chair constantly and only provided with liquid Ensure (a nutrient formula) and water. Mr. Binal-Shib reported that he went three to four weeks without solid food, and was only provided with Ensure and water. In addition, six other high-value detainees reported being deprived of solid food for periods ranging from days to weeks. (7) Medical Analysis: While physical risks of a liquid diet are minimal as long as appropriate calories and nutrients are provided, the intent of dietary manipulation is to inflict psychological distress by infringing on the detainee’s sense of autonomy and self control and increasing discomfort and a sense of helplessness and dependency. While the risk of death or debilitation may be minimal, the effects on concentration and mood may be substantial. 4. Prolonged diapering
Detainees were placed in diapers and denied access to a toilet for prolonged periods of time. According to the ICRC Report, high value detainees in CIA custody were placed in diapers for prolonged periods for transport.
The detainee would be made to wear a diaper and dressed in a tracksuit... The journey times obviously varied considerably and ranged from one hour to over twenty-four to thirty hours. The detainee was not allowed to go to the toilet and if necessary was obliged to urinate or defecate in the diaper.(8)
he ICRC report states that one of the detainees, Mr. Bin Attash, was compelled to wear a diaper for a prolonged period:
[H]e commented that on several occasions the diaper was not replaced so he had to urinate and defecate on himself while shackled in the prolonged stress standing position. Indeed, in addition to Mr. Bin Attash, three other detainees specified that they had to defecate and urinate on themselves and remain standing in their own body fluids.(9)
Medical Analysis: Prolonged diapering especially when combined with leaving the subject in a diaper soiled with urine and feces can result in both physical and psychological harm. Prolonged exposure of the skin can result in skin infection, skin breakdown and ulceration and urinary tract infections. In addition, the placement of a normally continent adult in a diaper will likely lead to efforts by the adult to resist urination or defecation, which in turn will likely result in bowel cramping and bladder spasm.
Access to toilet is a universally recognized minimum standard for prisoners and detainees. In spite of the physical risks, the chief aim of this technique is to cause psychological stress through humiliation, induced dependency, loss of autonomy, and regression to an infantile state.(10) Like all such techniques, especially when combined with others of the ‘DDD’ type (debility-dependency-dread), these are cumulative and lead to short and long-term debilitation. At Guantánamo, the standard operating procedures included requiring the detainee to ask the interrogator for toilet paper, food, and religious articles. Here, the torturers go even further, returning the detainee to pre-toilet-training levels. When combined with a liquid diet, the experiences of regression, humiliation, and dependency are magnified. 5. Walling
Six of the fourteen high-value detainees interviewed by the ICRC reported being placed in a neck collar or roll and then slammed against a wall. According to the CIA guidelines, slamming against a wall could be used twenty or thirty times consecutively.
During the walling technique, the detainee is pulled forward and then quickly and firmly pushed into a flexible false wall so that his shoulder blades hit the wall. His head and neck are supported with a rolled towel to prevent whiplash. (11)
Although the guidelines require that the wall be a specially constructed flexible one, some detainees alleged that they were also slammed against concrete wall using the collar during transport.(12)
Mr. Bin Attash alleged that during interrogation in Afghanistan:
“on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room.” (13)
Medical Analysis: Walling results in blunt trauma and acceleration/deceleration type injuries. Blunt trauma can result in bruises and bleeding from ruptured blood vessels. Studies have observed persistence of musculoskeletal pain cause by blunt trauma even a decade after the trauma has occurred. In rare cases, repeated beating can cause damage to muscle tissue and muscle breakdown resulting in release of muscle enzymes resulting in a life-threatening condition called rhabdomyolisis. In addition, walling can expose the subject to risk of whiplash type injury to the neck and spine. (14)
Psychological stress, which is the primary aim of the procedure, is achieved by use of surprise, generating a startle response, an experience of shock, loss of control and helplessness. Also, rage is engendered which turns to further humiliation, insofar as the detainee cannot fight back. 6. Confinement in a Box
Confinement in a box is a rather extreme version of a stress position with the added potential for claustrophobia.
According to the ICRC report, Abu Zubaydah alleged that in Afghanistan in 2002 he was held in boxes designed to constrain his movement. Mr. Zubaydah stated:
“As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant that my wounds both in the leg and the stomach became very painful.” (15)
He went on to say that a cover was placed over the boxes while he was inside making it hot and difficult to breathe. Medical Analysis: Confinement in a box is an extreme example of stress positions, with the added effect of decreased access to fresh air, temperature changes, light deprivation and isolation. Stress positions have been associated with permanent joint and ligamentous injury, and both acute and prolonged musculoskeletal pain. In addition, use of stress positions following blunt trauma carries the risk of deep vein thrombosis (clotting) and associated and potentially fatal pulmonary emboli. This is not a theoretical risk, as at least two detainees in US Custody in Afghanistan died of pulmonary emboli due to use of stress positions in interrogation settings.(16)
Confinement in a box was devised as a direct appropriation of Martin Seligman’s research on “learned helplessness.” In fact, on at least two occasions, Seligman presented his learned helplessness research to CIA contract interrogators referred to in the Inspector General’s report. In Seligman’s experiment, dogs were confined to boxes in which they discovered that familiar mechanisms of control would no longer have an effect in avoiding pain.
Like their canine counterparts, humans subjected to similar confinement develop psychomotor and cognitive responses that would be clinically diagnosed as depression and, in certain cases, PTSD. Such symptoms include apathy, helplessness, hopelessness, foreshortened sense of future, and a (in this case justified) lack of belief in their ability to affect their future prospects. In Seligman’s experiments, these symptoms were severe and lasting, in that a change to an environment where the dogs could have an effect did not change the symptoms of learned helplessness. (From the DoD’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) and SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) Programs.) Unapproved and Improvised Techniques
The Inspector General’s Report contains numerous accounts of interrogation techniques that were not approved for use, including threats with a gun and power drill, threats of harm to loved ones, and choking and carotid artery pressure.
Threats of harm to the detainee or loved ones are reviewed in Leave No Marks. The risks of choking and carotid artery pressure should be self-evident. They include risk of choking death and stroke, as well as high risk of psychological trauma from a near-death experience. Near-death experiences are highly correlated with the risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder. Role of Health Professionals in Torture
Health professionals played central roles in developing, implementing and providing justification for torture.
Health professionals in the Office of Medical Services and psychologist contractors (17) engaged in designing and monitoring harmful interrogation techniques.(18) Such medical participation in torture is a clear violation of medical ethics. Furthermore, health professionals were complicit in selecting and then rationalizing these abusive methods whose safety and efficacy in eliciting accurate information have no valid basis in science. The severe physical and psychological pain and enduring harms associated with these techniques make it evident that they constitute torture and ill treatment. Monitoring of interrogation techniques by medical professionals to determine their effectiveness uses detainees as human subjects without their consent, and thus also approaches unlawful experimentation.(19)
According to CIA guidelines, health professionals including a psychologist and doctor were required to be present during the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.(20) The required presence of health professionals did not make these methods safer, and in fact only served to sanitize their use and enable the abuse to escalate, thereby placing health professionals in the untenable position of calibrating harm rather than serving as protectors and healers as required by their ethical oath.
The report also documents the role of health professionals in participating in initial psychological and physical assessments of detainees in an intake process closely linked to the process of interrogation. By requirement, all interrogations were monitored in real-time by health professionals. Previous reports, including the ICRC report, document allegations that a medical device called a pulse oximeter (a device to measure oxygen saturation in a subject’s blood) was placed on the finger of a detainee to monitor the effectiveness of his respiration during waterboarding.(21) In this way, medical professionals were used to calibrate physical and mental pain and suffering.
Not only were health professionals involved in designing and monitoring the CIA interrogation program, they also played an indirect but essential role in the legal justifications for the program prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC was asked by the CIA whether certain techniques constituted torture under 18 USC §2340 by causing “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” Since the OLC lawyers had no direct experience of the techniques, they necessarily relied instead on the judgment of health professionals. Yet, in a striking example of bootstrapping, they turned for advice about the pain caused by the techniques to the very health professionals who were implementing them. (22)
In essence, the lawyers were asked if the techniques constituted torture and they replied to the CIA that they only did so if the CIA Office of Medical Services (OMS) informed them that the techniques reached the defined standard of pain. The OMS health professionals obligingly passed on through CIA channels their opinion that the pain was not in fact severe
In an egregious example of this circular process, one OLC memo concludes that waterboarding is not torture because “however frightening the experience may be, OMS personnel have informed us that the waterboard technique is not physically painful.” Scores of similar references to OMS medical judgments about pain and the safeguarding effects of medical monitoring appear throughout the memos. Although OMS did express some concern about some techniques, those objections were limited. Without the cooperation of health professionals in making these assessments, the OLC memos could not have reached the conclusions they did and could not have so easily justified torture.
The intent of the CIA interrogation program was to cause severe psychological distress.(23) Despite citation of unnamed experts who reportedly concluded that these techniques were unlikely to cause significant harm, the notion that these abusive techniques can be used safely has no basis in medical science and is not supported by an extensive peer-reviewed literature.(24) From a medical, scientific and common sense perspective the idea that such abusive and inhumane techniques can be safely deployed is unsupportable. The techniques authorized and deployed have long been documented to cause significant and long lasting psychological pain and suffering including posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and major depression.(25) In fact, a recent study demonstrates that abusive techniques employed during captivity which emphasized psychological torture over physical injury, such as psychological manipulation, forms of deprivation, humiliation and stress positions, cause as much mental pain and traumatic stress as does torture designed to inflict physical injury. (26)
The use of these abusive methods violates international human rights standards. The likely illegality of the program was known to the agency and debated within the agency. Those advocating for the use of abusive techniques such as waterboarding should have known that the US had prosecuted these same techniques as torture. Health professionals who were involved in its justification, design and implementation should have known that professional ethics prohibit health professionals from complicity in such harmful acts against prisoners or detainees. It is precisely to avoid such complicity that health professionals have recourse to professional codes of ethics, as well as international standards of medical conduct. Familiarity with these codes – not to mention basic human decency – should preclude such conduct, making clear to health professionals and government institutions both its essentially unethical nature and illegal status under international law.
Not only should interrogators be subject to an investigation of alleged criminal conduct. Health professionals who were involved in this program should be the subject to independent investigation for both criminal and unprofessional conduct. Professionals who have violated professional ethics or the law must be held accountable through criminal prosecution, loss of license and professional society membership, where appropriate. Conclusion
The newly released version of the May 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report on Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities reveals the use of a number of previously undescribed techniques including:
Confinement in a box
These techniques used alone or in combination may meet the definition of torture under US and international law. Legality aside, they are associated with high risk of physical and psychological harm, including harm that is enduring, in those subjected to these techniques. They also represent clear violations of well-established medical ethics governing the behavior of health professionals.
The report also confirms use of previously reported techniques, covered in the PHR and Human Rights First report Leave No Marks, such as isolation, forced nudity, stress positions, temperature manipulation, waterboarding, and other techniques which were used in ways that violated the torture statute and international law.
The 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. The possibility that health professionals monitored techniques to assess and improve their effectiveness, constituting possible unethical human experimentation, urgently needs to be thoroughly investigated.
PHR has long called for full investigation and remedies including accountability for war crimes, and reparation such as compensation, medical care and psycho-social services. PHR also calls for health professionals who have violated ethical standards or the law to be held accountable through criminal prosecution, loss of license and loss of professional society membership where appropriate.
1)Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and Its Impact. 2008. Available at: http://brokenlives.info/?page_id=69 ; Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces. 2005. Available at: http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/report-2005may.html ; Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality 2007. Available at: http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/ report-2007-08-02.html. 2) Inspector General’s report p. 37
3) ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody. International Committee of the Red Cross. February 2007. Available at http://www.nybooks.com/icrc-report.pdf.
4. Broken Laws, Broken Lives: Medical Evidence of Torture by US Personnel and Its Impact. 2008. Available at: http://brokenlives.info/?page_id=69. The former detainee’s history was deemed credible by examining physicians. He suffers from symptoms consistent with posttraumatic stress disorder.
5. ICRC Report.
6. ICRC Report.
7. ICRC Report.
8. ICRC Report.
9. ICRC Report.
10. “The purpose of all coercive techniques is to induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior outside force to bear on his will to resist. Regression is basically a loss of autonomy, a reversion to an earlier behavioral level. As the subject regresses, his learned personality traits fall away in reverse chronological order...” (Human Resource Exploitation Manual, CIA, 1983)
11. CIA guidelines as reproduced in Inspector General’s report, p. 15
12. ICRC Report.
13. ICRC Report.
14. Leave No Marks
15. ICRC Report.
16. Allen S. Rich J. Bux R. Farbenblum B. Berns M. Rubenstein L. Deaths of Detainees in the Custody of US Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002 to 2005. Medscape General Medicine: 2006;8(4):46.
17. From the DoD’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) and SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) Programs.
18. “Several months earlier, in late 2001, CIA had tasked an independent contractor psychologist, who had [redacted] experience in the US Air Forces’ Survival, Evasion, resistance, and Escape (SERE) training program, to research and write a paper on Al-Qa’ida’s resistance to interrogation techniques. This psychologist collaborated with a Department of Defense (DoD) psychologist who had [redacted] SERE experience in the US Air Force and DoD to produce the paper “Recognizing and Developing Countermeasures to Al-Qa’ida’s Resistance to Interrogation Techniques: A Resistance Training Perspective.” Subsequently, the two psychologists developed a list of new and more aggressive EIT’s [enhanced interrogation techniques] that they recommended for use in interrogations.” Inspector General’s Report p. 13. “CIA’s OTS obtained data on the use of the proposed EIT’s and their potential long-term psychological effects on detainees. OTS input was based in part on information solicited from a number of psychologist and knowledgeable academics in the area of psychopathology” and “OTS also solicited input from DoD/Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) regarding techniques used in SERE training and any subsequent psychological effects on students.” Inspector General’s Report p. 14.
19. The Office of Medical Services guidelines for waterboarding state “A rigid guide to the medically approved use of the waterboard is not possible, as safety will depend on how the water is applied and the specific response each time it is used. The following general guidelines are based on very limited knowledge, drawn from very few subjects whose experience and response was quite varied.” They add “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 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.”
20. “In 2004, when Daniel B. Levin, then the acting assistant attorney general in the counsel’s office, sent a letter to the CIA reauthorizing waterboarding, he dictated the terms: “no more than two sessions of two hours each, per day, with both a doctor and a psychologist in attendance.” Report Shows Tight CIA Control on Interrogations. Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane. New York Times, August 26, 2009. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/ us/26prison.html?_r=1&hpw
21. ICRC report. Note that the use of a pulse oximeter, and the requirement that an emergency tracheostomy kit be kept ready is even more evidence that the procedure is intentionally harmful, risky and potentially lethal.
22. In certain cases the very same JPRA psychologists who designed the torture and implemented the techniques, and, who, as private contractors, profited from the operation, also provided the research that justified the techniques: “You have informed us that your on-site psychologists, who have extensive experience with the use of the waterboard in Navy training, have not encountered any significant long-term mental health consequences from its use. Your on-site psychologists have also indicated that JPRA has likewise not reported any significant mental health consequences from the use of the waterboard.”
23. CIA Inspector General’s Report. Appendix F. “Captured terrorists turned over to the CIA for interrogation may be subjected to a wide range of legally sanctioned techniques, all of which are also used on US military personnel in SERE training programs. These are designed to psychologically ‘dislocate’ the detainee, maximize his feelings of vulnerability and helplessness, and reduce or eliminate his will to resist our efforts to obtain critical intelligence.” In addition, the sanction techniques include so-called “Standard measures” or those deemed to be without physical or substantial psychological pressure and so-called “Enhanced measures,” or those deemed to cause physical or psychological pressure beyond “Standard measures.” (p. 1). “In all instances, the goal of these techniques is psychological impact...” and are “designed to induce shock, surprise and/or humiliation.” (p. 2).
24. See Leave No Marks and Broken Laws, Broken Lives. Although these reports were published in 2007 and 2008 respectively, they summarized scientific literature that was well established in 2001. In a bizarre justification for the safety of the techniques, the OLC report states, “You have also reviewed the relevant literature and found no empirical data on the effect of these techniques with the exception of sleep-deprivation.” OLC August 1, 2002, p. 6. Yet, there is a large body of research on the effects of these and similar techniques, much of it supported by the CIA. See for example The Search for the Manchurian Candidate (c) 1979 by John Marks. Published by Times Books.
25. PHR and HRF previously reported on the harmful effects of many of these techniques in their report Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation and the Risk of Criminality.
26. BasogluM.etal.Torturevs.OtherCruel,InhumanorDegradingTreatment: Is the Distinction Real or Apparent? Archives Gen. Psychiatry 277 (2007).
This presss release, by Jonathan Hutson, was published by Physicians for Human Rights, August 31, 2009
Cambridge, MA — The extent to which American physicians and psychologists violated human rights and betrayed the ethical standards of their professions by designing, implementing, and legitimizing a worldwide torture program is greater than previously known, according to a report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).
A team of PHR doctors authored the new white paper, Aiding Torture: Health Professionals' Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 Inspector General's Report. The report details how the CIA relied on medical expertise to rationalize and carry out abusive and unlawful interrogations. It also refers to aggregate collection of data on detainees' reaction to interrogation methods. PHR is concerned that this data collection and analysis may amount to human experimentation and calls for more investigation on this point. If confirmed, the development of a research protocol to assess and refine the use of the waterboard or other techniques would likely constitute a new, previously unknown category of ethical violations committed by CIA physicians and psychologists.
"Medical doctors and psychologists colluded with the CIA to keep observational records about waterboarding, which approaches unethical and unlawful human experimentation," says PHR Medical Advisor and lead report author Scott Allen, MD. For example, "Interrogators would place a cloth over a detainee's face to block breathing and induce feelings of fear, helplessness, and a loss of control. A doctor would stand by to monitor and calibrate this physically and psychologically harmful act, which amounts to torture. It is profoundly unsettling to learn of the central role of health professionals in laying a foundation for US government lawyers to rationalize the CIA's illegal torture program."
The Inspector General's report documents some practices — previously unknown or unconfirmed — that were used to bring about excruciating pain, terror, humiliation, and shame for months on end. These practices included:
Brandishing guns and power drills;
Threats to sexually assault family members and murder children;
"Walling" — repeatedly slamming an unresponsive detainee's head against a cell wall; and
Confinement in a box.
"These unlawful, unethical, and ineffective interrogation tactics cause significant bodily and mental harm," said co-author and PHR Senior Medical Advisor Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD. "The CIA Inspector General's report confirms that torture escalates in severity and torturers frequently go beyond approved techniques."
"The required presence of health professionals did not make interrogation methods safer, but sanitized their use, escalated abuse, and placed doctors and psychologists in the untenable position of calibrating harm rather than serving as protectors and healers. The fact that psychologists went beyond monitoring, and actually designed and implemented these abuses – while simultaneously serving as 'safety monitors' – reveals the ethical bankruptcy of the entire program," stated co-author Steven Reisner, PhD, PHR's Psychological Ethics Advisor.
"That health professionals who swear to oaths of healing so abused the sacred trust society places in us by instigating, legitimizing and participating in torture, is an abomination," states co-author Allen Keller, MD, Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. "Health professionals who aided torture must be held accountable by professional associations, by state licensing boards, and by society. Accountability is essential to maintain trust in our professions and to end torture, which scars bodies and minds, leaving survivors to endure debilitating injuries, humiliating memories and haunting nightmares."
PHR has called for full investigation and remedies, including accountability for war crimes, and reparation, such as compensation, medical care and psycho-social services. PHR also calls for health professionals who have violated ethical standards or the law to be held accountable through criminal prosecution, loss of license and loss of professional society membership where appropriate.
To download PHR's Aiding Torture, visit http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2009-08-31.html.
Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by US personnel against detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and elsewhere in its groundbreaking reports, Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, and Broken Laws, Broken Lives.