The current simplistic mantra of the Israeli government as they bomb and maim and kill and destroy in Gaza is “They made us do it.” Similar posturing is found in decisions and actions by the U.S. government and military during the last eight years, too numerous to mention. Why did our government pay bounties for hundreds of Muslims, lock them up in a prison by the sea, and eliminate all their human rights? “They made us do it.”
Yet after an 18-month investigation of detainee abuse by the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Committee’s Executive Summary and Conclusions states that, rather than finding the actions of the government and military toward detainees justified, the investigation determined culpability. The Committee’s Summary and Conclusions both places the responsibility for torture directly in the White House, as Dick Cheney has proudly affirmed, and connects the participation and responsibility of psychologists in that torture.
Bush’s team has focused on justification and rationalization of torture, (or as Doug Feith said, “The problem with moral authority [was] people who should know better . . . siding with the assholes, to put it crudely.”), while the American Psychological Association has practiced deception and misinformation in attempts to evade the reality of their involvement in torture.
According to the recently-released findings of the Senate Committee:
At about the same time, a dispute over the use of aggressive techniques was raging at GTMO over the interrogation of Mohammed al-Khatani, a high value detainee. Personnel from CITF and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) had registered strong opposition, to interrogation techniques proposed for use on Khatani and made those concerns known to the DoD General Counsel’s office. Despite those objections, an interrogation plan that included aggressive techniques was approved. The interrogation itself, which actually began on November 23, 2002, a week before the Secretary’s December 2, 2002 grant of blanket authority for the use of aggressive techniques, continued through December and into mid-January 2003.
It was psychologist and APA member John Leso who was instrumental in developing and implementing the above-referenced interrogation plan as detailed in documents released by the Senate hearings in June, 2008. Minutes of a Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting on 10/2/02 document Major John Leso and Major Burney as the Behavioral Science Consultation Team describing for others present at the meeting the reversed-engineered SERE Psychological Training, which included a specific discussion of al-Qahtani, “recalling how he has responded to certain types of deprivation and psychological stressors.” Notably, the date of 10/2/02 indicates that APA member Leso and cohorts had already been abusing and torturing al-Qahtani (spelled Khatani in the Senate report) months before the Defense Secretary’s grant of blanket authority.
The Committee’s Conclusions continue:
That same day, GTMO suspended its use of aggressive techniques on Khatani. While key documents relating to the interrogation remain classified, published accounts indicate that military working dogs had been used against Khatani. He had also been deprived of adequate sleep for weeks on end, stripped naked, subjected to loud music, and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks. In a June 3, 2004 press briefing, SOUTHCOM Commander General James Hill traced the source of techniques used on Khatani back to SERE, stating: “The staff at Guantanamo working with behavioral scientists [John Leso], having gone up to our SERE school and developed a list of techniques which our lawyers decided and looked at, said were OK.” General Hill said “we began to use a few of those techniques … on this individual…” [Mohammed al-Qahtani]
On May 13, 2008, the Pentagon announced in a written statement that the Convening Authority for military commissions “dismissed without prejudice the sworn charges against Mohamed al Khatani.” The statement does not indicate the role his treatment may have played in that decision.
Charges were dismissed without prejudice as it became very clear that Leso and Burney, the psychologist and psychiatrist who formed the Behavioral Science Consultation Team charged with developing the Special Interrogation Plan for Mohammed al-Qahtani, had crossed the line into torture and no charges could be proven.
Thus Stephen Behnke, attorney, psychologist and director of ethics for the American Psychological Association since 2000, has spent much of the last six years falsifying APA’s position. He has yet to explain in any of his many interviews and letters why Dr. Leso has been allowed to create, collude and condone the abuse of al-Qahtani and remain a member of APA without any sanctions or accountability.
In a letter to Harper’s on November 22, 2007, he wrote, “The position of the American Psychological Association is unequivocal: For more than 20 years, the association has absolutely condemned any psychologist participation in torture . . .”
The utter lack of action by APA to ethical complaints against John Leso and other APA members is evidence that APA’s position does not meet the definition of “unequivocal.” Better adjectives might include equivocal, imprecise, inexact, unclear, cryptic, enigmatic and ambivalent, as Behnke continued in his letter to Harper’s: ” . . . Given the concerns that have been expressed let me state clearly and unequivocally [he likes that word] the 2007 Resolution should never be interpreted as allowing isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation, or sleep deprivation either alone or in combination to be used as interrogation techniques to break down a detainee in order to elicit information.”
More recently, in a radio broadcast on WHYY “Radio Times” on October 30, 2008, Dr. Behnke stated: “Well, an ethical interrogation is one in which fully protects (sic) the human rights of the detainee, and that is what the American Psychological Association has been fighting with policies that allow torture or abuse. Our position has been called by the national media a rebuke of the Bush administration interrogation policy. So what we have been doing is fighting any policy that permits torture or abuse and that does not fully protect the human rights of the detainees.”
27 November 2002
1000: Control puts detainee in swivel chair at MAJ L’s [Major Leso’s] suggestion to keep him awake and stop him from fixing his eyes on one spot in booth . . . Control used ‘onion’ analogy to explain how detainee’s control over his life is being stripped away. Control gives detainee three facts: we are hunting down Al Qaida every day, we will not stop until they are captured or killed, we control every aspect of your life.
Postscript: After leaving Guantanamo, John Leso was sent to the U.S. Embassy in Austria for a time. As recently as 2007, John Leso was back in the U.S. and stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama, which includes the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school (SERE) for Army Aviation. Mohammed al-Qahtani remains in a cell at Guantanamo, in limbo, having all charges against him dropped.
Dr. TRUDY BOND is a psychologist in Toledo, Ohio. She can be reached at email@example.com.