The Torture Doctors

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 5.49.36 PM

Michael Daly introduces us to the amateur goons who ran the torture freak show:

James Elmer Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen are not the first Americans to employ waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” against our enemies. But they are almost certainly the only ones to get rich doing it.

They did so by employing what is widely dismissed as “voodoo science” based on misapplied principles in a program that CIA records suggest produced little, if any, intelligence of significant value. And they might have gotten even richer. The Senate Intelligence Committee report says they secured a contract with the CIA in 2006 valued “in excess of $180 million.” The CIA canceled the deal three years later, but by then the duo had received $81 million.

This is one reason I remain befuddled by the pro-torture right’s response to the facts in the report. If you are in favor of torture, you should be horrified that the CIA contacted it out to goons with no relevant experience or interrogation training. If you care about wasting government money, you should be appalled by this instance of total incompetence, rewarded by tax-payers. But the Republicans’ rank partisanship precludes them from being internally consistent and coherent. They’re just backing their own team – even as that team clearly betrayed any confidence the torture-supporters might have expected.

Then there is the question of whether qualified psychologists or doctors were implicated in these war crimes. Roy Eidelson and Trudy Bond question whether the American Psychological Association was involved:

Responding to the new Senate report, the American Psychological Association (APA) was quick to issue a press release distancing itself from Mitchell and Jessen. The statement emphasized that the two psychologists are not APA members – although Mitchell was a member until 2006 – and that they are therefore “outside the reach of the association’s ethics adjudication process.” But there is much more to this story.

After years of stonewalling and denials, last month the APA Board appointed an investigator to examine allegations that the APA colluded with the CIA and Pentagon in supporting the Bush Administration’s abusive “war on terror” detention and interrogation practices.

The latest evidence of that collusion comes from the publication earlier this fall of James Risen’s Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless WarWith access to hundreds of previously undisclosed emails involving senior APA staff, the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter concludes that the APA “worked assiduously to protect the psychologists…involved in the torture program.” The book also provides several new details pointing to the likelihood that Mitchell and Jessen were not so far removed from the APA after all.

Jefferson M. Fish also cites Risen’s book:

In the book, Risen documented the extensive contacts between APA and the U.S. government, both leading to and following the change in ethical Standard 1.02. Risen wrote:

Perhaps the most important change was a new ethics guideline: if a psychologist faced a conflict between APA’s ethics code and a lawful order or regulation, the psychologist could follow the law or “governing legal authority.” In other words, a psychologist could engage in activities that the U.S. government said were legal—such as harsh interrogations—even if they violated APA’s ethical standards. This change introduced the Nuremberg defense into American psychology—following lawful orders was an acceptable reason to violate professional ethics. The change in the APA’s ethics code was essential to the Bush administration’s ability to use enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees. (Pp. 194-195)

In December 2008, following a presidential election in which both Barak Obama and John McCain condemned torture, the APA proposed removing the offending sentence and replacing it with, “Under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights.” This change, which was subsequently implemented, would seem to imply that the sentence had been created for just the purpose described by Risen.

Relatedly, Steven Miles, author of Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctorstalked to Julie Beck about the role of doctors in torture. Beck asks, “Why would people use medical knowledge and expertise learned to heal people for the opposite purpose?” Miles responds:

It’s pretty interesting, I’m writing a book on just that question. The docs who get involved in this, number one, are careerists. They get involved for rank and career, and the regimes never coerce them, or extremely rarely coerce them. Instead what happens is the regimes treat them as some kind of elite. The docs are generally not sadists. This is not the stuff of Saw, for example. They go along with the dominant political theme of the prison: “These are our enemies and we gotta squeeze them for the information.” The thing that’s so interesting is that there is research showing that force of interrogation does not work, that it’s counterproductive. These docs seem to be entirely unaware, not only of the ethics codes, but also of the ineffectiveness of these interrogation strategies, that they never mount a protest.

The banality of evil.

(Image via ABC News)