APA Critics Plumb New Gitmo Revelations

Also posted at Invictus

Once again, the indefatigable Stephen Soldz has jumped out on the Guantanamo SOP story, providing readers with important analysis on exactly what is in that document, and how it links to what we already know about U.S. torture policies. He also discusses the document in the light of the struggle he and other psychologists have waged in the American Psychological Association against the latter’s collaborationist policy of staffing the interrogation rooms and prisons of Bush’s anti-democratic and bloody “war on terror”.

This is from his latest article, “Leaked Guantanamo Document Confirms Routine Use of Isolation as Psychological Torture”, posted yesterday at ZNet.

The Guantanamo SOP now provides official documentation that, at the time of the Rumsfeld memo and despite its warnings regarding the techniques’ potential illegality and physical and psychological dangers, isolation was routinely used by the Defense Department at Guantanamo on all new detainees. The Rumsfeld memo complements the SOP in that it documents the central role of “medical and psychological review,” and, thus, medical and psychological personnel in the administration of this technique….

Of relevance to those of us struggling to change American Psychological Association policy on psychologist participation in interrogations, the APA included clauses in its 2007 resolution against torture that allows continued participation in the use of isolation [and sensory deprivation] in certain circumstances:

“This unequivocal condemnation includes, but is by no means limited to, an absolute prohibition for psychologists against… the following used for the purposes of eliciting information in an interrogation process: … isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation and/or sleep deprivation used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm.” (emphasis added)

The APA inclusion of this carefully-qualified language led many APA critics, as well as certain reporters to wonder will psychologists still abet torture? It is therefore essential that the APA clarify the meaning of these apparent “loopholes.”

Recent attempts by the APA to address the meaning of these “loopholes” raise the possibility that APA leaders, reeling under the impact of massive protests among members and criticism in the press, are looking to resolve any ambiguities in the 2007 Resolution. But so far, the APA leadership have failed to make a clear, unequivocal statement that this use of isolation at Guantanamo is unethical.

As always, the entire article is must reading. Meanwhile, Scott Horton over at Harper’s has covered much of the same territory, taking on the APA in vigorous, impassioned fashion in his article, “The Psychologists and Gitmo”. Horton draws upon Soldz’s work:

Of all the major professional organizations addressing the torture and prisoner abuse issue, one has an unbroken record of clear ethical evasion. It has adopted a new professional mantra, it seems: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Just a few days ago Major General Geoffrey Miller’s operations manual for Guantánamo was posted on the internet. It got a lot of attention because it contained provisions making clear that certain detainees were not to be identified to or permitted access to the Red Cross. That was, of course, a criminal act. And why was the Red Cross being kept away? The circumstances make the answer to that question readily apparent: they were being tortured, and the Bush Administration was extremely eager to conceal that fact as long as it could.

But this manual contains a number of less dramatic, but still extremely important disclosures. And among them is the use of isolation and sensory deprivation techniques as a means of “preparing” detainees. It’s been clear for some time that the CIA favors this over the truly “rough stuff.” And legal scholars and ethicists have also been clear that these practices may also constitute torture over sustained periods, and certainly constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Now psychologist Dr. Stephen Soldz has taken a close look at the manual, and applied it retroactively to the debate inside of the American Psychological Association. And it provides further information suggesting that the organization’s leadership, which is filled with individuals with unmistakable financial and business ties to the U.S. Government, has misled the membership in an effort to protect the Bush Administration and its torture practices.

Meanwhile, in the back alleys and byways of the Internet, in private emails and on listservs, the analysis of the Gitmo SOP continues. One astute observer — a psychologist working with others to change APA policy — noted in mailing that the SOP describes the use of marathon interrogations, while not allowing for use of towels, as they might cover the sensory bombardment of constant 24-hour-a-day light in prisoner cells.

There will be no limit as to the duration of the interrogation/interview. (10-2) (Pg. 58 of the SOP Manual)

Wikileaks reports that the Pentagon asked the site to censor the material a week after it was initially posted. Apparently, the ACLU had been trying unsuccessfully to obtain the document for some time. In posting this document, Wikileaks (and the anonymous whistleblower who provided this document) provided a real service for American democracy and open government. It remains to be seen how much this dart will serve to help bring down Bush’s gulag and end the campaign of torture the military and clandestine services have engaged in for far too long.


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    • Valtin on November 21, 2007 at 6:02 am

    I think the public got tired of all the torture news after the waterboarding-Mukasey fiasco. Now, with Mukasey firmly in office, they’ve turned off, along with the press, the politicians, and much of the blogosphere (Soldz, Horton, Chris Floyd and a few others are exceptions).

    Posted here in the hopes someone will see that when the a whistleblower dumps documents that clearly mark the illegal nature of a U.S. government institution, someone, somewhere, will take notice; that life is not, as Shakespeare’s old anti-hero would have it, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  1. Constant light suppresses and desynchronizes circadian rhythmicity, causing one’s pistons to fire our of order, which reduces lifespan, by as much as 20%.  As for other lasting harm, any “reasonable” psychologist would understand that memories themselves are defined  as long-lasting, as in “long-term memory.”  Shit: They are the ones who came up with that terminology!  Traumatic memories are the deepest.  This is like candidates parsing on the stump.  I thought APA was coming around on the eve of the Mukasey nomination.  I guess not.

    • Tigana on November 21, 2007 at 8:06 am


    • pfiore8 on November 21, 2007 at 8:08 am

    and almost forgot how fucked up everything is.

    we read about horrors and ask why didn’t anybody DO anything? that’s what they’ll ask years from now … why didn’t we do anything to stop them

  2. is to bookmark this… for a time when PTSD won’t get in the way.  

    Like I keep saying in my mealy-mouthed comments, I could not do what you do, to take the long unblinking look into it all.  I’m the 2nd generation PTSD daughter of a man who was one of their early subjects.  What you describe is basically identical to what they did to my Dad post-WWII when they “lost” him on a hospital ship for several months post war trauma, there and then on land at the Sheridan WY VA hospital.  They had some vested interest in removing his memory, I know that much.

    There are times I can brood over it but it is too cathartic.  Trust me, it turned all our lives to [email protected]

    So I sheepishly settle for madly applauding you for your work, Valtin.  Prayers for you.  You’re doing great work.

    • Tigana on November 22, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    No, I cannot accept Orange/Dem indifference to torture.

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