No Comment — August 15, 2007, 6:55 am

The Professions Strike Back

The Bush Administration has finally achieved something unprecedented. The organized bar–with a vote just one short of unanimity–has declared one of Bush’s executive orders illegal and vowed to seek Congressional action to override it. And psychologists appear poised to join their legal colleagues in an equally harsh denunciation. It’s about torture. Remember Bush’s claim, “We do not torture”? Except, of course, we do, and on Bush’s personal orders.

Back on July 21, President Bush issued an Executive Order which gave cover to a series of brutal interrogation and detention practices to be used by the Central Intelligence Agency at black sites. Now the nation’s organized bar and its psychologists’ association are both saying: “no” and directing their members not to comply with the order. Jane Mayer’s recent article in the New Yorker furnishes an excellent description of the tactics at the bottom of this controversy. Here’s a sampling:

A former member of a C.I.A. transport team has described the ‘takeout’ of prisoners as a carefully choreographed twenty-minute routine, during which a suspect was hog-tied, stripped naked, photographed, hooded, sedated with anal suppositories, placed in diapers, and transported by plane to a secret location. A person involved in the Council of Europe inquiry, referring to cavity searches and the frequent use of suppositories during the takeout of detainees, likened the treatment to ’sodomy.’ He said, ‘It was used to absolutely strip the detainee of any dignity. It breaks down someone’s sense of impenetrability. The interrogation became a process not just of getting information but of utterly subordinating the detainee through humiliation.’ The former C.I.A. officer confirmed that the agency frequently photographed the prisoners naked, ‘because it’s demoralizing.’

In addition to these practices, some of which may constitute the felony of rape by instrumentality under various state statutes, other practices condoned by Bush’s order include waterboarding, long-time standing, hypothermia and sleep deprivation in excess of two days. These are all techniques considered to be “torture” under American criminal law, as well as under international human rights standards.

The Bush Administration has reckoned with the silence and complicity of professional organizations whose work is essential to permitting the implementation of the CIA torture scheme, including doctors, psychologists, behavioral scientists and lawyers. However, the silence of the professions is coming to an end.

The Lawyers
Yesterday meeting in San Francisco, the organized legal profession in the United States—the American Bar Association—took a firm stand on the president’s order, denouncing it as unlawful and calling upon Congress to override it. Of the more than five hundred delegates present and voting, one single delegate sided with the administration—the most devastating defeat ever suffered by any U.S. administration on what was essentially a vote of condemnation. Even the ABA committees that represent government lawyers involved in national security organizations and retired military officers led the charge in assailing the Bush order’s legality.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

The first resolution dealt with an executive order adopted by the Bush administration less than a month ago that Barbara Berger Opotowsky, president of the New York City Bar Association, said was clearly “inconsistent with U.S. obligations” under Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which requires humane treatment of detainees.

“The use of official cruelty has repeatedly been shown to be far from the best means of extracting truthful information,” said Opotowsky, who proposed the resolution. She noted that a U.S. Army field manual on intelligence interrogations issued last September barred the controversial interrogation techniques that will be available to the CIA. “Unfortunately, the executive order sets a lower standard for the CIA,” she said.

Memphis, Tenn., lawyer Albert Harvey, a retired Marine major general, also spoke in favor of the resolution, which passed by voice vote with only a single “nay” registering in the large meeting hall at the Moscone Center here. “When we put our troops in harm’s way, we expect other countries to treat our soldiers humanely. We can do no less,” said Harvey, who heads the ABA’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security. Like Opotowsky, Harvey quoted an article recently published by P.X. Kelley, a former Marine commandant, and Robert Turner, of the University’s Center on Law and National Security, who in the past have been supportive of the administration’s war on terror. In this instance, however, the duo wrote that they could not “in good conscience” support the executive order, saying it affords the CIA “carte blanche to engage in ‘willful and outrageous acts of personal abuse.’ “

By passing this resolution, the ABA has now committed itself and its resources to oppose the Bush Administration in court proceedings and in Congress. It also established an opinion within the profession that the executive order itself is unlawful. The ability of CIA officials and others to rely on the order in taking action and claim immunity based on that reliance has been strongly eroded by this action. And from this point, the view advanced by a small handful of “loyal Bushie” lawyers that the techniques themselves are lawful has to be understood as the perspective of of a tiny insular minority within the legal profession, a view which has now been forcefully denounced by the profession as a whole.

The Psychologists
Just as the lawyers acted, the professional organization of psychologists prepared to take similar steps. The American Psychological Association has long been a battleground, with the membership protesting an entrenched leadership filled with individuals who have tight interests with the Department of Defense and who have shielded psychologists who played essential roles in the development and implementation of the new torture practices. The critics among the membership now appear to have secured the votes necessary to affect a reversal, as Mark Benjamin reports this morning at Salon

The American Psychological Association, the world’s largest professional organization of psychologists, is poised to issue a formal condemnation of a raft of notorious interrogation tactics employed by U.S. authorities against detainees during the so-called war on terror, from simulated drowning to sensory deprivation. The move is expected during the APA’s annual convention in San Francisco this weekend.

The APA’s anti-torture resolution follows a string of revelations in recent months of the key role played by psychologists in the development of brutal interrogation regimes for the CIA and the military. And it comes just weeks after news that the White House may be calling on psychologists once again: On July 20, President Bush signed an executive order restarting a coercive CIA interrogation program at the agency’s “black sites.” Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has indicated that psychological techniques will be part of the revamped program, but that the interrogations would be subject to careful medical oversight. That oversight is likely to be performed by psychologists.

In fact, given what promises to be the continuing involvement of psychologists in coercive interrogation, there is intense infighting within the organization about whether simply condemning abusive tactics is enough. Some of the APA’s 148,000 members think the anti-torture resolution put forward by APA leadership is too weak, and they are putting intense pressure on the organization’s leadership to go a step further and ban psychologists from participating in detainee interrogations altogether. They have introduced their own resolution proposing a moratorium. “I and others think that a moratorium is essential to try to tell the government that psychologists are not going to participate in the interrogation of enemy combatants,” said Bernice Lott, a member of the Council of Representatives, the APA’s policy-making body. Others oppose the moratorium because they think psychologists must be involved in the interrogations to prevent abuse — and because the government may just choose to use non-APA members for its interrogations, as has already happened.

The psychologists seeking a change in position are staging a rally outside the annual convention of the APA at the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco, on Friday, Aug. 17, at 4 p.m. The organizers issued this statement:

Last year the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association declared unequivocally that there are no legitimate roles for psychiatrists or physicians in such interrogations; they insisted that participation violates basic international human rights and the
ethical imperative to do no harm. Noting the APA’s cooperation with the U.S. government, the American Anthropological Association voted unanimously to condemn the use of anthropological knowledge as an element of physical or psychological torture.

The APA’s position has been condemned by human rights groups, by Britain’s medical journal The Lancet, by journalists covering the story; and by many of its own members, but the elected and appointed leaders of the APA have defended their positions. To be clear, the official APA position, like the official position of our national government, condemns torture. Yet, as always, the devil is in the details, and APA policy has continued to maintain that psychologists have a legitimate role to play in interrogations of detainees, even in sites like Guantanamo and CIA prisons.

The current APA Ethics Code (Ethical Standards Section 1.02) allows psychologists to violate its principles, including that of “do no harm,” in order to “adhere to the requirements of the law.” As APA member Stephen Soldz has asked, “What sort of experts on ethics write the Nuremberg defense into their code of conduct?” (The Washington Monthly, Jan/Feb 2007).

Soldz’s point is driven home by the ABA’s position, which makes clear that this “law” is not legal. It’s designed as a figleaf to cover conduct which is and always was criminal.

The essential next step for both professionals is self-policing. There is an urgent need to identify those individuals who, in violation of their professional and ethical responsibilities, collaborated with the torture regime. Once these persons have been identified, it will be up to oversight bodies to determine what sanctions are taken. Sanctions can include the revocation of professional practice privileges for severe violators.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2019

The Wood Chipper

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Common Ground

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love and Acid

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Black Axe

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Wood Chipper·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I was tucked in a blind behind a soda machine, with nothing in my hand but notepad and phone, when a herd of running backs broke cover and headed across the convention center floor. My God, they’re beautiful! A half dozen of them, compact as tanks, stuffed into sports shirts and cotton pants, each, around his monstrous neck, wearing a lanyard that listed number and position, name and schedule, tasks to be accomplished at the 2019 N.F.L. Scout­ing Combine. They attracted the stunned gaze of football fans and beat writers, yet, seemingly unaware of their surroundings, continued across the carpet.

Article
Common Ground·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Thirty miles from the coast, on a desert plateau in the Judaean Mountains without natural resources or protection, Jerusalem is not a promising site for one of the world’s great cities, which partly explains why it has been burned to the ground twice and besieged or attacked more than seventy times. Much of the Old City that draws millions of tourists and Holy Land pilgrims dates back two thousand years, but the area ­likely served as the seat of the Judaean monarchy a full millennium before that. According to the Bible, King David conquered the Canaanite city and established it as his capital, but over centuries of destruction and rebuilding all traces of that period were lost. In 1867, a British military officer named Charles Warren set out to find the remnants of David’s kingdom. He expected to search below the famed Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, but the Ottoman authorities denied his request to excavate there. Warren decided to dig instead on a slope outside the Old City walls, observing that the Psalms describe Jerusalem as lying in a valley surrounded by hills, not on top of one.

On a Monday morning earlier this year, I walked from the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to the archaeological site that Warren unearthed, the ancient core of Jerusalem now known as the City of David. In the alleys of the Old City, stone insulated the air and awnings blocked the sun, so the streets were cold and dark and the mood was somber. Only the pilgrims were up this early. American church groups filed along the Via Dolorosa, holding thin wooden crosses and singing a hymn based on a line from the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Narrow shops sold gardenia, musk, and amber incense alongside sweatshirts promoting the Israel Defense Forces.

I passed through the Western Wall Plaza to the Dung Gate, popularly believed to mark the ancient route along which red heifers were led to the Temple for sacrifice. Outside the Old City walls, in the open air, I found light and heat and noise. Tour buses lined up like train cars along the ridge. Monday is the day when bar and bat mitzvahs are held in Israel, and drumbeats from distant celebrations mixed with the pounding of jackhammers from construction sites nearby. When I arrived at the City of David, workmen were refinishing the wooden deck at the site’s entrance and laying down a marble mosaic by the ticket window.

Article
The Black Axe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Eleven years ago, on a bitter January night, dozens of young men, dressed in a uniform of black berets, white T-­shirts, and black pants, gathered on a hill overlooking the Nigerian city of Jos, shouting, dancing, and shooting guns into the black sky. A drummer pounded a rhythmic beat. Amid the roiling crowd, five men crawled toward a candlelit dais, where a white-­robed priest stood holding an axe. Leading them was John, a sophomore at the local college, powerfully built and baby-faced. Over the past six hours, he had been beaten and burned, trampled and taunted. He was exhausted. John looked out at the landscape beyond the priest. It was the harmattan season, when Saharan sand blots out the sky, and the city lights in the distance blurred in John’s eyes as if he were underwater.

John had been raised by a single mother in Kaduna, a hardscrabble city in Nigeria’s arid north. She’d worked all hours as a construction supplier, but the family still struggled to get by. Her three boys were left alone for long stretches, and they killed time hunting at a nearby lake while listening to American rap. At seventeen, John had enrolled at the University of Jos to study business. Four hours southeast of his native Kaduna, Jos was another world, temperate and green. John’s mother sent him an allowance, and he made cash on the side rearing guard dogs for sale in Port Harcourt, the perilous capital of Nigeria’s oil industry. But it wasn’t much. John’s older brother, also studying in Jos, hung around with a group of Axemen—members of the Black Axe fraternity—who partied hard and bought drugs and cars. Local media reported a flood of crimes that Axemen had allegedly committed, but his brother’s friends promised John that, were he to join the group, he wouldn’t be forced into anything illegal. He could just come to the parties, help out at the odd charity drive, and enjoy himself. It was up to him.

John knew that the Black Axe was into some “risky” stuff. But he thought it was worth it. Axemen were treated with respect and had connections to important people. Without a network, John’s chances of getting a good job post-­degree were almost nil. In his second year, he decided to join, or “bam.” On the day of the initiation, John was given a shopping list: candles, bug spray, a kola nut (a caffeinated nut native to West Africa), razor blades, and 10,000 Nigerian naira (around thirty dollars)—his bamming fee. He carried it all to the top of the hill. Once night fell, Axemen made John and the other four initiates lie on their stomachs in the dirt, pressed toge­ther shoulder to shoulder, and hurled insults at them. They reeked like goats, some Axemen screamed. Others lashed them with sticks. Each Axeman walked over their backs four times. Somebody lit the bug spray on fire, and ran the flames across them, “burning that goat stink from us,” John recalled.

Article
Who Is She?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t get up—­just couldn’t get up, couldn’t get up or leave. All day lying in that median, unable. Was this misery or joy?

It’s happened to you, too, hasn’t it? A habit or phase, a marriage, a disease, children or drugs, money or debt—­something you believed inescapable, something that had been going on for so long that you’d forgotten any and every step taken to lead your life here. What did you do? How did this happen? When you try to solve the crossword, someone keeps adding clues.

It’s happened to us all. The impossible knowledge is the one we all want—­the big why, the big how. Who among us won’t buy that lotto ticket? This is where stories come from and, believe me, there are only two kinds: ­one, naked lies, and two, pot holders, gas masks, condoms—­something you must carefully place between yourself and a truth too dangerous to touch.

Article
Murder Italian Style·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Catholic School, by Edoardo Albinati. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1,280 pages. $40.

In a quiet northern suburb of Rome, a woman hears noises in the street and sends her son to investigate. Someone is locked in the trunk of a Fiat 127. The police arrive and find one girl seriously injured, together with the corpse of a second. Both have been raped, tortured, and left for dead. The survivor speaks of three young aggressors and a villa by the sea. Within hours two of the men have been arrested. The other will never be found.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

After not making a public appearance for weeks and being rumored dead, the president of Turkmenistan appeared on state television and drove a rally car around The Gates of Hell, a crater of gas that has been burning since it was discovered in 1971.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today