Thursday, November 17, 2005

Pushback Pt. IV

The shoe that has yet to drop in the administration's counter-offensive is any honest public statement about their torture policy. (Yes, Bush says we don't torture, but Bush is lying, and while he's lying, Cheney is lobbying the conference committee to create an exemption for the CIA on John McCain's torture ban.)

As Andrew Sullivan aptly puts it,
Just when you think you have heard the worst about this administration's chaotic, ad hoc, incompetent and intermittently criminal detention policies in the war on terror, a trap-door opens and you fall down another story.
Andrew was referring to news that there have been 83,000 foreigners held in US custody in the past four years, of whom 14,500 remain in custody.

Bad as that is, what strikes me as far more indicative of the bottomlessness of this administration's moral degeneracy is the revelation that the interrogation tactics used in the name of a war for democracy and civilization are plagiarized from the handbooks of Vietnamese and North Korean (read: commie) torturers. I won't try to paraphrase Arthur Silber:
Let's make certain we understand what this means: all the rationalizations utilized by the administration and its defenders in this matter -- every one of which relies on the notion that torture may help to save lives and prevent an attack, that is, that torture may "extract useful intelligence" -- has been and is a lie. This was never about obtaining intelligence at all. That needs to be repeated, because it is so monstrous in its implications: This was never about obtaining intelligence at all...

Every expert on the subject emphasizes over and over again that torture does not work for the purpose of extracting good intelligence: if you inflict enough pain on anyone, he will tell you whatever he thinks you want to hear, whether it's true or not. And as these authors emphasize, truth was never the goal. Instead, "their aim was to force compliance," or, as they put the point more generally: "Americans desperately wanted mastery over a world that suddenly seemed terrifying." Our leaders felt out of control, as well they should have (and which was even understandable and justified to some degree, at least as an initial reaction). They wanted to reestablish control as quickly as possible, and to believe they directed events rather than the other way around.

To achieve this goal, they resorted to the most brutal methods of our former enemies: they sought to bend men to their will by means of brute force. The point was not what the prisoners might tell their captors: the point was that the prisoners' will had to be destroyed. They had to be made to obey. Just as was true of communist interrogators, the only goal was "to control a prisoner's will." Period. Our leaders deluded themselves that if the enemy was destroyed in this manner, they and we would be safe. But this particular kind of delusion should not properly be viewed as falling within the category of military strategy: it belongs in a textbook on clinical psychology, in a chapter describing exceptionally severe and destructive neurosis.
The compounding factor in all this is that, following Lindsay Graham's proposal to strip detainees of habeas corpus rights, the Senate is devoting its energy to coming up with a fair "compromise" on habeas corpus. (Read all about it here.)

I wonder whether alleged libertarians like Juan Non-Volokh are prepared to revise their assessments of the appropriateness of comparing US detention policy to the Soviet gulag. As anyone familiar with Zeno's paradox is aware, if we only approach gulag-style detention by half-steps, we'll never actually get there. Still, how similar to the gulag would our detention policy have to be in order for JNV to decide that criticizing the policy is a higher priority than criticizing its critics?

Secret detention facilities in eastern Europe? Check. Communist torture tactics? Check. Detaining innocent people indefinitely while stripping them of their right to appeal their confinement? Check. Torturing detainees known to be innocent? Check. I'd say the appropriateness of comparisons to the gulag is beyond doubt.


At 8:13 PM, Blogger Marsha Hammond, PhD: Psychologist said...

Licensed Psychologist e mail: Member of Div 32, Humanistic Psychology, APA

RE: APA PENS committee (deadline for commentary 12.31.05: all comments are welcome, not just internal to American Psychological Association; send to

December 21, 2005

Dear PENS committee and Dr. Behnke (Ethics Office of APA)

Last week I submitted information associated with the (referenced) need for APA to clearly define what roles and duties psychologists fulfill when engaged in their duties in the Armed Services. Clearly, and more recently, however, the Bush administration is attempting to side-step, legally, what is 'torture' by redefining the terms. If APA PENS recommendations are hinged upon what the definition of torture is---which is constantly being re-defined by the Bush administration--- there will be no guidance to BSCT or other psychologists engaged with the military and interrogations.

Additionally, and specifically, I would like to support APA's PENS committee to make a clear statement to the Department of Defense's Assistant Defense Secretary, Stephen Cambone, to not approve this newest version of the Army Field Manual. Rumsfeld's new version of the Army Field Manual would permit "harsh" interrogation methods and stamp the descriptions of what is now permissible with a "classified" label, to prohibit quoting from them (thus, we would have no reports of what actually has taken place or what will take place).

I would solicit the PENS committee to make clear that psychologists are not to engage in behaviors which I believe can be colloquially agreed upon to be torture or supportive of torture---whether the terms are mutated / re-defined and/ or classified by the Bush administration.

If the PENS subcommittee kowtows to the Bush administrations' constantly shifting stances----all perfectly legal------then psychologists will not be able to state to their commanding officers that they are ethically bound to not engage in behaviors----not just as associated with slippery terms-----but as associated with the actual behaviors.

Again, as at the August, 2005 APA meeting/ PENS forum in D.C., as per the participants in the audience: what is called for is clear direction from APA and not a vague suggestion that ethics be attended to. This will not suffice given the slipperiness of the Bush administration.



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