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The Seven Paragraphs on Torture

In a major development in the struggle to curb the abuses committed as part of the War on Terror, the British government today released under court order previously redacted information on the abuse of Binyan Mohamed by US interrogators. Here are the seven paragraphs that were released which summarizes intelligence information which both the British and US governments fought hard to suppress:

It was reported that a new series of interviews was conducted by the United States authorities prior to 17 May 2002 as part of a new strategy designed by an expert interviewer.

v) It was reported that at some stage during that further interview process by the United States authorities, BM had been intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation. The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed.

vi) It was reported that combined with the sleep deprivation, threats and inducements were made to him. His fears of being removed from United States custody and “disappearing” were played upon.

vii) It was reported that the stress brought about by these deliberate tactics was increased by him being shackled in his interviews

viii) It was clear not only from the reports of the content of the interviews but also from the report that he was being kept under self-harm observation, that the interviews were having a marked effect upon him and causing him significant mental stress and suffering.

ix) We regret to have to conclude that the reports provide to the SyS [security services] made clear to anyone reading them that BM was being subjected to the treatment that we have described and the effect upon him of that intentional treatment.

x) The treatment reported, if had been administered on behalf of the United Kingdom, would clearly have been in breach of the undertakings given by the United Kingdom in 1972. Although it is not necessary for us to categorise the treatment reported, it could readily be contended to be at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by the United States authorities.

This case has aroused tremendous attention in Britain, as it clearly revealed British intelligence agents’, and the British Government’s, complicity in abuse of a British citizen. The British public, unlike much of the American, finds complicity in torture by its intelligence agents to be deeply disturbing.

The court decision ordering the release of this material is causing additional outrage because it violated hundreds of years of legal precedent in allowing only one side, the British government, to suggest changes in the decision. These changes were made without an opportunity of the defense to object.

The letter to the court from the government lawyers requesting the changes was released, however. That letter gives a sense of what was excluded:

The Master of the Rolls’s observations… will be read as statements by the Court (i) that the Security Service does not in fact operate a culture that respects human rights or abjures participation in coercive interrogation techniques; (ii) that this was in particular true of Witness B whose conduct was in this respect characteristic of the service as a whole (‘it appears likely that there were others’); (iii) that officials of the Service deliberately misled the Intelligence and Security Committee on this point; (iv) that this reflects a culture of suppression in its dealings with the Committee, the Foreign Secretary and indirectly the Court, which penetrates the service to such a degree as to undermine any UK government assurances based on the Service’s information and advice; and (v) that the Service has an interest in suppressing information which is shared, not by the Foreign Secretary himself (whose good faith is accepted), but by the Foreign Office for which he is responsible.

Thus, the British government is afraid that the lies they perpetrated in the Binyan Mohamed case will disincline future courts from believing claims that the British government can be trusted when it asserts that they are opposed to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In other words, the court might correctly understand that the British government, like the US and many other governments, is a serial liar when  it comes to abuses committed by its agents.

What may be less clear to US citizens is the potential enormous impact of the released information to the anti-torture struggle in the US. Marcy Wheeler [emptywheel] has pointed out the major significance of the apparent timing of Binyan Mohamed’s abuse. It is reported to have occurred before a visit by an MI5 officer on May 17, 2002. The significance of the date is that it is before the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memos providing a legal cover for torture were issued in august, 2002.Thus, Binyan Mohamed’s abuse, unlike later abuses, cannot be justified as being conducted in good faith under an authoritative legal opinion from the OLC.

Thus, this information just might provide an opportunity for prosecuting some of the torture perpetrators. And if the perpetrators are culpable, so may be those officials, however high they may be, who authorized the abuse.

Wheeler also points out that it is likely that the “expert interviewer” who designed the “new strategy” used on Binyan Mohamed was likely one of the CIA’s chief torture psychologists, James Mitchell or Bruce Jessen, or at least an associate of theirs. Thus, these architects of the CIA’s torture techniques may sweat a bit more after the release of these seven paragraphs.

The material released today also has several phrases that suggest that Binyan Mohamed was being experimented upon. As the material staes, tThe interrogations were “part of a new strategy designed by an expert interviewer.” And “The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed.” Why were these effects being “carefully observed” unless to determine their effectiveness in order to see whether they should be inflicted used upon others? That is, the observations were designed to generate knowledge that could be generalized to other prisoners. The  seeking of “generalizable knowledge” is the official definition of “research,” raising the question of whether the CIA conducted illegal research upon Binyan Mohamed.

Last summer Physicians for Human Rights suggested that materials in the then released CIA Inspector General’s report on the “enhanced interrogation” program suggested that the CIA had an systematic program of research. Such research is patently illegal and violates the rules that have governed human research since the Nuremberg Trials convicted German doctors for illegal research. This CIA research also violates rules of the US government regulating all research on people.

Similarly, bioethicist Steven Miles argued in an appendix to the second edition of his classic Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors that the detailed interrogation log of Mohammed al-Qahtan only made sense as the notes for a research protocol.

This new evidence on the torture of Binyan Mohamed adds to the considerable evidence that, as part of its torture program, the CIA also had a program to systematically study the effectiveness of torture techniques. Last summer, Physicians for Human Rights called for an independent investigation of this potential CIA research. The new evidence suggesting that Binyan Mohamed may have been an unwitting research subject only adds to the urgency of an investigation.

In addition to the usual human rights advocates, all those who conduct research on people — psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and biomedical researchers among others — should join the call for an investigation. For torture effectiveness research violates all the principles that guide our work, that our efforts should improve human welfare rather than degrade and destroy. We cannot allow the possibility that our society will remain one where inhumane research can be conducted with total impunity.

STEPHEN SOLDZ is a psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He edits the Psyche, Science, and Society blog. He is a founder of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, one of the organizations working to change American Psychological Association policy on participation in abusive interrogations. He is President-Elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility [PsySR]. He can be reached at: ssoldz@bgsp.edu