Posts Tagged ‘new york times’

200 Protest APA’s Sanction of Psychologists in Abusive Interrogations

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

USA Today reported on Saturday’s Psychologists for an Ethical APA rally, which PHR co-sponsored.

BOSTON — About 200 demonstrators rallied Saturday outside the convention hall where some 14,000 are attending the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association to protest the role of psychologists in military interrogations.

Psychologists have traditionally played a part in questioning of U.S. captives done by the military or intelligence agencies. Some psychologists have criticized such work during the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism effort as a code of ethics violation, while others say eliminating the psychologists’ participation would make the interrogations more harmful for detainees.

At the two-hour rally, groups of psychologists, including Psychologists for an Ethical APA and Psychologists for Social Responsibility, as well as human rights organizations, including representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International, blasted those psychologists for their part in the Bush administration’s practices. And they say they’re outraged over the APA’s acceptance of psychologists’ participation because of what they say are human rights violations by the government.

“Who would have thought that the APA — whose code of ethics mandates a respect for basic principles of human rights and holds psychologists ‘to a higher standard of conduct than is required by the law’ — would be so reluctant to prohibit psychologists from participating in interrogations from Guantánamo to Abu-Ghraib,” Nancy Murray of the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts told the crowd. “The APA has justified this ‘policy of engagement’ by stating its involvement is intended to stop unethical interrogations.”…

Intermingled in the crowd were protestors carrying signs with slogans such as “Do No Harm” and “No Torture/No Collaboration.”

Nathaniel Raymond of Physicians for Human Rights, a health professional organization that has been outspoken about abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, told the rally, “It’s about restoration of the values that define us. It’s not just about interrogations. It’s about who were are in the world.”

The rally was all the more poignant following Thursday’s revelation in the Daily Kos that a licensed psychologist, US Army Lieutenant Colonel Diane M. Zierhoffer, ordered the torture of a juvenile detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

The Daily Kos was quickly followed by reports in the New York Sun and the New York Times.

From the Sun:

It is the first time a military psychologist belonging to a biscuit team is publicly known to have been asked to give testimony in a Guantanamo court proceeding. The woman’s response suggests that military psychologists are concerned about either their professional licenses or criminal liability.

Court papers filed on behalf of the detainee, Mohammad Jawad, say the psychologist had, in 2003, advised an interrogator to put Mr. Jawad in isolation in an effort to facilitate interrogation, a person familiar with the detainee’s case and who has seen the unclassified legal papers said. The interrogator had sought out the psychologist’s advice because of a concern that Mr. Jawad’s mental state was deteriorating, the person said, adding that Mr. Jawad had been observed speaking to posters on his wall. The psychologist apparently rejected that layman’s diagnosis and believed Mr. Jawad was faking and recommended isolation, the person said.

Nine weeks after Mr. Jawad was removed from a month of isolation, he tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide by either hanging himself or repeatedly banging his head, the source said.

“What is so disturbing about the Jawad case,” the source said, is that the psychologist “is calibrating the level of harm.”

The Times quotes Steven Reisner, who is the front runner in the upcoming election for the new APA president.

“This is what it’s come to,” said Steven Reisner, an assistant clinical professor at the New York University School of Medicine and a leading candidate for the presidency of the psychological association. “We have psychologists taking the Fifth.”

Dr. Reisner has based his candidacy on “a principled stance against our nation’s policy of using psychologists to oversee abusive and coercive interrogations” at Guantánamo and the so-called black sites operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The ACLU’s human rights researcher, Jennifer Turner, is blogging at the Daily Kos, directly from Guantanamo, where she is covering the pre-trial hearings of Mohammed Jawad and two others. She elaborated:

[A]ccording to Jawad’s defense attorney Maj. Frakt, in September 2003, “when an interrogator observed Mohammad talking to posters on the wall of the interrogation room and was concerned about his mental health,” instead of calling a mental health professional to care for him, they summoned the BSCT team, whose psychologist made a “cruel and heartless assessment and recommendations.” Maj. Frakt called the BSCT psychologist’s report, which was classified secret and therefore not discussed in detail in the open court session, “the most chilling document of all.”

In an environment such as Guantanamo, health professional psychologists, who are healers and safeguarders against harm, have taken a back seat to behavioral scientists—whose job it is to callibrate pain and abuse.

Kristof Calls for a National Truth Commission on Torture

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

In this morning’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof responds to Major General Antonio Taguba’s call for accountability in the Preface to Broken Laws, Broken Lives.

When a distinguished American military commander accuses the United States of committing war crimes in its handling of detainees, you know that we need a new way forward.

“There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes,” Antonio Taguba, the retired major general who investigated abuses in Iraq, declares in a powerful new report on American torture from Physicians for Human Rights. “The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”

The first step of accountability isn’t prosecutions. Rather, we need a national Truth Commission to lead a process of soul searching and national cleansing.

That was what South Africa did after apartheid, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and it is what the United States did with the Kerner Commission on race and the 1980s commission that examined the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Today, we need a similar Truth Commission, with subpoena power, to investigate the abuses in the aftermath of 9/11.

Kristof lists some of the reasons why a truth commission is called for:

It’s a national disgrace that more than 100 inmates have died in American custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo. After two Afghan inmates were beaten to death by American soldiers, the American military investigator found that one of the men’s legs had been “pulpified.”

Moreover, many of the people we tortured were innocent: the administration was as incompetent as it was immoral. The McClatchy newspaper group has just published a devastating series on torture and other abuses, and it quotes Thomas White, the former Army secretary, as saying that it was clear from the moment Guantánamo opened that one-third of the inmates didn’t belong there.

McClatchy says that one inmate, Mohammed Akhtiar, was known as pro-American to everybody but the American soldiers who battered him. Some of his militant fellow inmates spit on him, beat him and called him “infidel,” all because of his anti-Taliban record.

Kristof mentions in passing the fundamental problem:

[T]he US military taught interrogation techniques borrowed verbatim from records of Chinese methods used to break American prisoners in the Korean War — even though we knew that these torture techniques produced false confessions.

The SERE program, through which such techniques were adapted and disseminated as a matter of policy, fostered an environment in which torture appears to have become standard operating procedure. As PHR President Len Rubenstein has said, “once torture starts it can’t be contained.” Despite the many earlier revelations, Broken Laws, Broken Lives provides medical evidence of such abuses. With only 11 former detainees as the subjects, the report may only be scratching the surface.

The truth must be told, the criminals prosecuted and, as PHR CEO Frank Donaghue emphasizes, reparations to the victims must be made, including compensation and medical and psycho-social services.

Bob Herbert on the “landscape of broken bodies, ruined lives and profound shame”

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

In his Saturday column in the NY Times, Bob Herbert commemorated the 21st anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which was this past Thursday. He discussed the methodology and findings of Broken Laws, Broken Lives and called on the US Congress and on the American public to demand the full truth about post-Sept 11 US interrogation practices. Herbert’s closing paragraphs are especially powerful on the ramifications of US interrogation practices (emphasis added).

The sheer number of different ways in which detainees were reported to have been abused was mind-boggling. They were deprived of sleep, forced to endure extremes of heat and cold, chained in crouching positions for 18 to 20 hours at a time, told that their female relatives would be raped, that they themselves would be killed, and on and on. All to no good end.

The ostensible purpose of mistreating prisoners is to inflict pain and induce disorientation and despair, creating so much agony that the prisoners give up valuable intelligence in order to end the suffering. But torture is not an interrogation technique; it’s a criminal attack on a human being.

What the report makes clear is that once the green light is given to torture, the guaranteed result is an ever-widening landscape of broken bodies, ruined lives and profound shame to all involved.

Nearly all of the detainees profiled in the report have experienced excruciating psychological difficulties since being released. Several said that they had contemplated suicide. As one put it: “No sorrow can be compared to my torture experience in jail. That is the reason for my sadness.”

Congress and the public do not know nearly enough about the nation’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation practices. When something as foul as torture is on the table, there is a tendency to avert one’s eyes from the most painful truths.

It’s a tendency we should resist.

Physicians for Human Rights, 2 Arrow Street, Suite 301, Cambridge, MA 02138 | brokenlives[at]phrusa[dot]org | Tel 617.301.4219