Sunday, March 2, 2008

Torture & Complicity: Meet the APA

As Congress prepares to investigate the role of their colleagues' torture of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and CIA "black sites," the American Psychological Association (APA) has refused to condemn participation by APA members in abusive interrogations.

Indeed, a secret APA task force concluded in 2006 that psychologists involved in these dubious programs provide "a valuable and ethical role to a system protecting our nation, other nations, and innocent civilians from harm." However, as Salon's Mark Benjamin learned, "six of the 10 psychologists that APA president Gerald Koocher helped select to draft the ethics report had close ties to the military, including four who'd been involved with the handling of detainees at Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib, or who'd served in Afghanistan."

This should come as no surprise since the APA according to David Goodman,

...aggressively lobbies on behalf of psychologists and research centers for funding from the military, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the DOD Counterintelligence Field Activity. In FY 2003, DOD spending on behavioral, cognitive, and social science research stood at about $405 million. (Mother Jones, "The Enablers," March 1, 2008)

Money like this buys a lot of complicity--and silence. It also testifies to the strength of a seamless collusive web binding together academics, psychologists and the Pentagon: an unholy alliance that validate wider U.S. geopolitical goals as its wages aggressive wars worldwide.

While the military and the CIA place "boots on the ground" in foreign climes inhospitable to imperialist resource extractors, it falls to intelligence "specialists," say APA members, to "guide" interrogators towards "favorable outcomes:" smashing all resistance.

Historian Christopher Simpson analyzed the central role that CIA and Pentagon funding of communication research and psychological warfare played in the post-war period. It isn't a pretty picture. According to Simpson,

Research funding cannot by itself create a sustainable academic zeitgeist, of course. Sponsorship can, however, underwrite the articulation, elaboration, and development of a favored set of preconceptions, and in that way improve its competitive position in ongoing rivalries with alternative constructions of academic reality. ... U.S. military, propaganda, and intelligence agencies favored an approach to the early study of mass communication that offered both an explanation of what communication "is" (at least insofar as those agencies' missions were concerned) and a box of tools for examining it. Put most simply, they saw mass communication as an instrument for persuading or dominating targeted groups. (Science of Coercion, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, pp. 5-6)

And therein lies the rub: for the CIA "a favored set of preconceptions" vis a vis "enhanced" interrogation (torture) is one that seeks to "break" the minds of their hapless victims in order to cough-up information viewed as "vital" by military and political bureaucracies fighting endless wars "to keep America safe."

Like all intellectual constructs that seek to defend the indefensible this is nothing new, nor is the APA's collaboration with the intelligence "community." Long before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, the CIA had already devised a monstrous set of "metrics" to extract information from resistance fighters and innocent civilians in a score of Cold War battleground states.

With the 1997 partial declassification of the CIA's 1963 torture manual, KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation, we gain valuable insight into the role played by APA practitioners of "non-coercive" interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay and other "black sites." While the question of "reverse-engineering" the U.S. military's SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) program for captured American troops and Special Forces operatives behind enemy lines has gained notoriety, the broader issue of American psychology's earlier collaboration in designing KUBARK has been given short-shrift.

Indeed, SERE itself built upon and expanded KUBARK's brief: designing an optimal set of conditions to make people talk. In the case of SERE, it is a matter of preparing troops to talk in certain evasive ways, thereby bettering their chances for survival.

A "reverse-engineered" SERE is another matter entirely: these techniques in the hands of "skilled" practitioners become coercive methods for breaking captives. By shifting the locus from physical to psychological torture, the APA along with Bush regime criminals, attempt to dodge altogether the issue of psychological torture as torture. Setting the interrogation table so to speak, inquisitors draw from a psychometric "toolbox" designed to enhance the "subject's" sense of isolation as a means to induce fear, compliance and ultimately, capitulation. The KUBARK authors' theorize:

The term non-coercive is used above to denote methods of interrogation that are not based upon the coercion of an unwilling subject through the employment of superior force originating outside himself. However, the non-coercive interrogation is not conducted without pressure. On the contrary, the goal is to generate maximum pressure, or at least as much as is needed to induce compliance. The difference is that the pressure is generated inside the interrogatee. His resistance is sapped, his urge to yield is fortified, until in the end he defeats himself. [emphasis added]

In A Question of Torture, historian Alfred W. McCoy refers to this technique as "self-inflicted pain," and argues that the CIA, recognizing the futility of its earlier MKULTRA program that searched for a "magic bullet" that would render subjects susceptible to manipulation through drugs (LSD, mescaline, thorazine, etc.), Agency Mengele's sought instead to devise ever-more devilish methods to break the will, even if it meant destroying the mind. One such technique is prolonged isolation. KUBARK summarize their findings thusly:

1. The more completely the place of confinement eliminates sensory stimuli, the more rapidly and deeply will the interrogatee be affected. Results produced only after weeks or months of imprisonment in an ordinary cell can be duplicated in hours or days in a cell which has no light (or weak artificial light which never varies), which is sound-proofed, in which odors are eliminated, etc. An environment still more subject to control, such as water-tank or iron lung, is even more effective.

2. An early effect of such an environment is anxiety. How soon it appears and how strong it is depends upon the psychological characteristics of the individual.

3. The interrogator can benefit from the subject's anxiety. As the interrogator becomes linked in the subject's mind with the reward of lessened anxiety, human contact, and meaningful activity, and thus with providing relief for growing discomfort, the questioner assumes a benevolent role.

4. The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject's mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure. The result, normally, is a strengthening of the subject's tendencies toward compliance.

Amongst the bibliographic contributors cited in KUBARK were a number of researchers and institutes identified by Simpson and others that were directly funded by the CIA and the Pentagon, these included: the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology; Public Opinion Quarterly; Bureau of Social Science Research Inc.; AMA Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry; Sociometry; the infamous Allan Memorial Institute of Dr. D. Ewen Cameron of "psychic-driving" infamy.

The isolation techniques cited above have been upgraded by newer "refinements" that play upon specific cultural anxieties and taboos of current Guantánamo and "black site" detainees and are features drawn from CIA/Pentagon contractors such as Spokane-based Mitchell Jessen & Associates soon themselves to be subjects of Congressional inquiry.

According Mark Benjamin,

Isolation in cramped cells is also a key tenet of SERE training, according to soldiers who have completed the training and described it in detail to Salon. The effects of isolation are a specialty of Jessen's, who taught a class on "coping with isolation in a hostage environment" at a Maui seminar in late 2003, according to a Washington Times article published then. (Defense Department documents from the late 1990s describe Jessen as the "lead psychologist" for the SERE program.) Mitchell also spoke at that conference, according to the article. It described both men as "contracted to Uncle Sam to fight terrorism."

Mitchell's name surfaced again many months later. His role in interrogations was referenced briefly in a July 2005 New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, which focused largely on the military's use of SERE-based tactics at Guantánamo. The article described Mitchell's participation in a CIA interrogation of a high-value prisoner in March 2002 at an undisclosed location elsewhere -- presumably a secret CIA prison known as a "black site" -- where Mitchell urged harsh techniques that would break down the prisoner's psychological defenses, creating a feeling of "helplessness." But the article did not confirm Mitchell was a CIA employee, and it explored no further the connection between Mitchell's background with SERE and interrogations being conducted by the CIA. (Salon, "The CIA's Torture Teachers, June 21, 2007)

But it may not be Congress alone that serves notice to the APA. The ACLU has warned the association, according to Mother Jones, that participation in "cruel, inhuman, and degrading interrogation of detainees is not only unethical but illegal, and may subject APA members to legal liability or even prosecution."

Let's hope so.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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