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Book Review – Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America

3:39 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

It’s been 15 years since author Allen Hornblum’s landmark book on unethical human experimentation in U.S. prisons, Acres of Skin, was published. His new book, written with co-authors Judith L. Newman and Gregory J. Dober, is a worthy follow-up to the earlier book. Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America should become a standard work in the fields of medical ethics and history of science. It has received favorable reviews by the Associated Press, the Boston Globe, the Spectator,” and other publications.

Against Their Will is an extraordinary work, a plea for humanist ethics in science and medicine as against political and economic expediency. It takes us into even darker places than Hornblum’s earlier book as it examines the long history of unethical experiments done on children in America. Hornblum and his co-authors trace the hideous practice of using children, even infants and pregnant women, as guinea pigs, back to the ideology of the eugenicists in the early 20th century.

Ostensibly practicing science in the heroic mold — science was to cure all of mankind’s ills — doctors and scientists turned to the youth warehoused in orphanages, children’s homes and hospitals as apt subjects for medical and other experiments. The children, who could not make any informed consent, were often labelled “feeble-minded,” or were children with Downs Syndrome or cerebral palsy, or were just too poor and illiterate to make any fuss. Their parents often were not notified of the experiments, or they were overtly or subtly coerced to give consent.

The result was a series of experiments in hospitals and children’s homes — like Vineland, Willowbrook, or Wrentham — seeking cures or treatments for pellagra, ringworm, hepatitis, diphtheria, and any number of ills. But the experiments wreaked untold and possibly still unreported havoc on the young children involved. One child subject the authors interviewed years later in adulthood insisted that some victims at Fernald State School in Massachusetts were “buried out there in paupers’ graves… They killed them” (p. 146). Some of the experiments involved treatments for birth control, including use of forced sterilization and castration.

The children used as experimental subjects were often deliberately infected with diseases, and then given experimental treatments (many quite dangerous), or even no treatment at all, the better to observe the natural course of the disease for science’s sake. Dr. Albert Kligman, a key figure in Hornblum’s Acres of Skin, reappears in this new book, deliberately introducing ringworm fungus into experimentally induced wounds on retarded children, and withholding treatment to observe the course of the disease.

Between the early negative eugenics inspired experiments and the later use of children as experimental subjects, the monstrous example of Nazi science and bizarre and deadly medical experiments cast a shadow across the subsequent decades. Hornblum et al. describe the rise and rapid fall of the Nuremberg protocols, which were generally ignored by U.S. doctors and scientists. These professionals eviscerated the ethical commands around informed consent. One doctor, associated with the Army Epidemiological Board, is quoted as criticizing “the Nuremberg specter”, which drives out “rational approaches” to using children as human subjects in medical research (p. 66).

But as the title of the book suggests, it was Cold War exigencies that gave medical and scientific researchers seeming carte blanche to conduct experiments on children (and prisoners, and elderly patients, and even prostitutes’ clients), and all in the name of national security and protection from communism. Hornblum and his co-authors do an excellent job in explaining this complex history, and showing how the Department of Defense, the Atomic Energy Committee and the CIA funded experiments, including use of electric shock and LSD.

The book describes the work of noted child researcher Lauretta Bender, known for her famous Bender Gestalt Test, taught to generations of psychologists, who used both electric shock and LSD on children deemed schizophrenic or behaviorally disordered. Many of these experiments were reported in medical or psychological journals, discussed at public conferences. (Hank Albarelli and I explored some of this history as well in a 2010 article at Truthout.) In the Cold War environment that prevailed, few saw any problem with using children this way. Few objected they represented a vulnerable population.

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Anti-Torture Psychologists Respond to Attack from APA Division Chief

1:47 pm in Torture, Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

TortureChamberBodrumTurkey_bazylek100-Flickr

Torture Chamber. Bodrum, Turkey.

The battle within the American Psychological Association (APA) to bring that organization into line with other human rights groups and attorney organizations in opposing the use of psychological personnel in national security interrogations accelerated last month when a prominent APA official came out strongly against a petition to annul APA’s ethics policy on national security and interrogations.

In June 2005, the APA published their report on Psychological Ethics and National Security (the PENS report). APA, stung by criticism that psychologists had been involved in torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere, nevertheless stacked the panel hastily assembled that Spring with over fifty percent military and/or military connected members.

These were not just any military individuals, but included the former Chief of Psychology at Guantanamo, a SERE psychologist who supported use of SERE techniques in interrogations, and a Special Forces top psychologist who, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee, had actually trained interrogators in use of SERE torture techniques in interrogations.

Reposted below is a letter from the Coalition for Ethical Psychology (CEP), responding to an October 26  letter from the President of the American Psychological Association’s Division 42, Psychologists in Independent Practice, who had written a reply to CEP’s request for support for their call for annulment of the APA’s PENS report.

The original petition to annul the PENS report was posted at CEP’s website in October 2011. The petition called PENS “the defining document endorsing psychologists’ engagement in detainee interrogations.”

The petition continued: “Despite evidence that psychologists were involved in abusive interrogations, the PENS Task Force concluded that psychologists play a critical role in keeping interrogations ‘safe, legal, ethical and effective.’ With this stance, the APA, the largest association of psychologists worldwide, became the sole major professional healthcare organization to support practices contrary to the international human rights standards that ought to be the benchmark against which professional codes of ethics are judged.”

The political heat around the anti-PENS petition increased noticeably when CEP came out publicly against a so-called “member-initiated task force” to “reconcile policies related to psychologists’ involvement in national security settings.” This task force, actually established with APA Board and staff support, was opposed to the annulment petition, and likely was formed to blunt the impact of CEP’s call for annulment, which was gaining much support. One of the prominent members of this new “task force” is William Strickland, the president and CEO of the long-time military contractor-research group, Human Resource Research Organization (HumRRO),

A number of APA divisions have signed onto CEP’s petition, including Div. 6 (Behavioral Neuroscience & Comparative Psychology), Div. 27 (Society for Community Research and Action), Div. 39 (Psychoanalysis), and others. The CEP petition also gained the support of the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Physicians for Human Rights, and other organizations, as well as prominent individuals, including past APA President Philip Zimbardo, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, and Nobel Prize winning geneticist Richard Lewontin, among many others.

“Harming our practice of psychology”

The Div. 42 letter was written by Jeffrey Younggren, a psychologist who has long presented himself or been recognized as an expert in psychological ethics, and who has a long-time association with military psychology, including a posting as Colonel in the United States Army Reserve to the Office of the Surgeon General, 1999 – 2002, and four medals for service to the Department of Defense.

Readers interested in Dr. Younggren and the Division 42 board’s point of view on PENS are encouraged to read their letter.

Quoted directly below is a portion of Younggren’s letter, wherein he describes the response of Div. 42′s Board to CEP’s original request to them for support of PENS annulment. Dr. Younggren concludes Div. 42 “will not introduce or sign onto any resolution about recalling or annulling the PENS report,” but his discussion goes farther than a mere statement of position on annulment.  He lambasted CEP itself (bold emphases are added for emphasis):

We request that your Coalition stop using the press to spread all negative information about its dissatisfaction with APA. You are harming our practice of psychology by giving false and biased information and therefore, impacting negatively on the ability of people who need psychological services to receive them from ethical and competent psychologists in independent practice….

[The PENS report] was properly vetted at the APA COR [Council of Representatives] meeting that voted to accept it. It is not APA policy. Rather COR merely accepted the information that may or may not be used in formulation of formal APA policies. Annulment [of PENS] would disenfranchise the COR members who voted to accept the report in 2005 and further would be disrespectful to the work done by members whose contribution may have helped the report be more honest than if only members who agreed with the Coalition’s were represented on it….

By distributing copies of this letter, we will ask APA to maintain a vigorous response to any further complaints publicized by the Coalition in the media that may damage our members’ independent practice of psychology. We believe that only by giving a partial story to the media, the Coalition is damaging the entire field of psychology.

PENS, Younggren, and APA’s Council of Representatives

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CCR Files Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld Appeal on Behalf of Detainees’ Families

11:50 am in Military, Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Center for Constitutional Rights has filed an appeal for the families of two of the three men who died in mysterious circumstances in June 2006. The U.S. government called it “asymmetrical warfare” by the detainees, who are said to have killed themselves in some belief that would hurt the U.S. government. As bizarre as that theory is, Defense Department investigations found the men committed suicide in a multiple, timed series of three planned suicides.

But as an investigation by Scott Horton at Harper’s Magazine, and one by Seton Hall School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research, demonstrated, the investigation did not hold up to scrutiny. Indeed, the legal case hinges on new eyewitness testimony from four Guantanamo guards who have come forward to tell what they saw that fateful night.

The legal maneuvers throw recent media attempts to discredit the Horton investigation, which won a prestigious magazine journalism prize last month, in a new and more ominous light. (See my story on one such hit piece published in Adweek.)

But the D.C. District Court is citing secrecy issues to keep the new evidence from even being presented. CCR released a press release on Monday discussing the case:

June 13, 2011, Washington and New York – Today, nearly five years to the day after three men died at Guantánamo in June 2006 under still-unexplained circumstances, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel are appealing the dismissal by the District Court for the District of Columbia of a civil lawsuit Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld. The military has maintained that the deaths were suicides, having once famously called them “acts of asymmetrical warfare.” In January 2010, new evidence from four soldiers stationed at the base at the time of the deaths came to light, suggesting that the military’s narrative was a cover-up and that the men may have been killed at a black site at Guantanamo.

“My son Yasser was 17 when he was taken to Guantánamo and 21 when he died there,” said Talal Al-Zahrani, father of Yasser Al-Zahrani. “I have waited for five years for meaningful answers to my questions about how my son died, but the U.S. government has never contacted me. Not when my son died, not in response to my questions afterwards and not to this day. And the fact that the government has not only failed to properly investigate his death but is also attempting to block review by the courts is both hard to believe and very painful for my family. We just want the truth and for those responsible to be held accountable.”

Nashwan Al-Salami, whose brother Salah also died at Guantánamo, said, “For five years the U.S. government and courts have blocked my family’s efforts to know the truth about how my brother died. My father died without ever learning what happened to his son, and I continue to hope for real answers and justice.”

The families had presented the new evidence from the soldiers to the district court, requesting that it reconsider its prior dismissal of the case. The court denied the request, holding that even with allegations of an off-site killing, national security “special factors” continue to bar the constitutional claims and that the defendants are further protected by qualified immunity. With respect to the international law claims, the court held that the new evidence was insufficient to challenge the presumption that the defendants were acting within the scope of their authorized duties and were entitled to absolute immunity. Courts have consistently relied on “special factors,” “state secrets” and the “political question” doctrines to dismiss torture and abuse cases brought before them. Not once in the past decade has a court either evaluated the actual facts of such a case or ruled on the legality of the conduct.

CCR attorneys pointed to other documented examples of deaths and killings covered-up by the military in the recent past, including the falsification of records in the death of former football player Pat Tillman and the premeditated murders of Afghan civilians by members of the Army’s Bravo Company.

“The new evidence is not the result of the wild speculations of the families, or their attorneys, or a journalist. It comes from the eye-witness accounts of four decorated soldiers who were compelled to come forward by their consciences, out of a sense of duty, and at great personal and professional risk. In this context, where the only people who know the truth are our clients’ dead sons and individuals within the government, the information these four men have brought forward is critical. It must give these families a chance to reopen their case. It is shameful that this information hasn’t been given greater consideration by the court,” said CCR staff attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, lead counsel in the case.

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights called on supporters to demand an independent investigation into the deaths and to ask the Obama Justice Department to change course from the prior administration’s policy of attempting to block every torture and abuse case, including Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, from proceeding. In all these cases, the victims and their families seek accountability, justice and answers.

The case, filed on behalf of the families of two of the deceased men, Yasser Al-Zahrani of Saudi Arabia and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami of Yemen, charged the government and 24 federal officials with responsibility for the men’s abuse, wrongful detention and ultimate deaths. Early last year, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case. Following the dismissal, the families filed a motion for reconsideration on the basis of the evidence from the soldiers, as reported by Scott Horton in Harper’s Magazine in January 2010, arguing that the new facts compelled the court to reopen the case.

The suit was brought by CCR and co-counsel William Goodman of Goodman & Hurwitz, P.C. and Johanna Kalb of the College of Law at Loyola University.

The decision, the complaint, the government briefs and other court documents, as well as video of Mr. Talal Zahrani addressing the U.S. government, courts and people regarding his son’s death can be found on CCR’s legal case page or http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/al-zahrani-v.-rumsfeld.

See also Andy Worthington’s two recent articles covering this news:

Teleconference: Five Years After Disputed “Suicides” at Guantánamo, Father of Dead Man Appeals Court’s Refusal to Consider His Case

Relatives of Disputed Guantánamo Suicides Speak Out As Families Appeal in US Court

In the article on the teleconference, Andy quoted Terek Dergoul, a former detainee who spent two years at Guantanamo and was released in 2004. He shared a cell right next to Yasser al-Zahrani, and spoke about the dead men, each of whom he knew fairly well.

Tarek Dergoul said:

I knew Yasser, Salah, and Mani personally, for a long period of time, and I knew of their deep will to resist being broken by Guantánamo and to live. These were beautiful men, and Yasser and Mani used to sing songs and recite poetry to lift the spirits of the other detained men. They always fought for the rights of all of us to be free from the abuses we were tormented with, and they were repeatedly subjected to harsh treatment because of this. I have never believed these men committed suicide as the government claims.

Documentary on Early U.S. Radiation Experiments on Black Children (w/Video)

7:56 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

“…and she told the other nurse, “Oh my God, I’ve given him too much!” —from “Hole in the Head: A Life Revealed”

Greg Reese at Antelope Valley News has written about the early radiation experiments conducted in 1927 on black children at Lyles Station, Indiana. These hideous experiments are part of a largely unexamined legacy of illegal human experimentation, much of it conducted on African-Americans, and other minorities, and also on prisoners.

A 2009 documentary tells the story of one of these children, now deceased, Vertus Hardiman. These experiments took off Hardiman’s scalp… literally. But Hardiman wasn’t the only victim, nor the Lyles Station experiments the last. As Reese tells it:

One cannot help but be repulsed by the cruelty of such procedures, especially their application to young children, but this was not an isolated case. Similar research occurred in 1951 on a much larger scale has been uncovered in the then-fledgling state of Israel. Like the Lyles Station incident, where all the affected children were Black, racial overtones abounded since fair-skinned Ashkenazi Jews of European origin administered radiation to upwards of 100,000 Sephardic Jewish children who were refugees from Morocco.

The Ashkenazis served as proxies for Robert Oppenheimer, his Manhattan Project, and the U.S. government, who underwrote the program because they were eager to utilize a convenient pool of guinea pigs for further testing in the wake of their successful atomic bombings at the close of World War II. Sephardic Jews differ visually from their Ashkenazi brethren by virtue of their darker, olive skin tone.

Still more episodes of radiation bombardment were conducted throughout the 1960s at what is now the University of Cincinnati on some 90 working-class citizens, of which two-thirds were Black. During the Clinton Administration these and other Cold War experiment programs were reviewed to determine restitution suitability and the need for formal apologies.

The following is a trailer from Brett Leonard’s documentary, “Hole in the Head: A Life Revealed” (h/t Russ Baker at whowhatwhy.com)

For more information on the U.S. history on human experiments, see Eileen Welsome’s The Plutonium Files; Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet Washington; and Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison by Allen M. Hornblum.
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Rendition Victim Mamdouh Habib Sues Omar Suleiman for Torture

7:56 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The other day I wrote about the fight back by former Guantanamo detainee David Hicks regarding the lies told about him by the Detainee Assessment Brief released as part of large and ongoing document leak by Wikileaks. Another Australian also previously incarcerated at Guantanamo, and even more horrifically tortured, if that’s possible, by the U.S. and its allies, has filed suit in an Egyptian court against his tormenter, former Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, who for 15 years or more was chief of intelligence in that country. Habib’s JTF-GTMO summary is also available at the Wikileaks site.

The summary states that Habib admitted “under extreme duress” various terrorist activities and knowledge while under interrogation in Egypt, where he was sent via the U.S. program of “extraordinary rendition.” Habib recanted these confessions once at Guantanamo. This didn’t keep intelligence officials of labeling him as of “high” intelligence value, maintaining that Habib had knowledge of Al Qaeda financing, safe houses, training and tactics, operations in Thailand and Singapore, along with associations with the 9/11 German terrorist cell. All of these were lies, induced by torture.

While Mr. Habib has not released a fact sheet to answer these charges, he has been aggressively pursuing a redress for the lies and crimes done to him. His lawsuit against the powerful Suleiman, who until recently was fully supported by the Obama administration during the Egyptian uprising, goes along with articles, speaking engagements, and his own book on his life and treatment in the U.S. gulag, My Story: the Tale of a Terrorist Who Wasn’t. Mubarak’s son, Gamal, is also named in the suit.

Habib has now spoken out on the claims cited in his Guantanamo assessment brief, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Referring to claims that he was planning the hijacking of a Quantas airplane, and other assertions in the Guantanamo document, the ABC article says:

Mr Habib, who was released from Guantanamo Bay without charge in 2005, says it is possible he admitted to things he did not do because Egyptian interrogators drugged him.

But he says he would not have said he was going to hijack a Qantas plane, because it is not true and he was being set up.

“Maybe some stuff happened by me under drugs, I’m not aware of it, to be honest,” he said.

“But as to a wake up person, I’m talking as very awake and I know, I’m knowledge, what’s going on, I never admit to anything, no.”

What follows is a little from Habib’s book, from the section where he was tortured by Suleiman:

He [Suleiman] continued, ‘If you tell us you knew about the attacks on the Trade Center on September 11th — that you were involved and that you were planning further attacks when you were picked up — if you tell us this, we can sell this information to the Americans for 10 million dollars. We’ll give you 4 million and we’ll keep the rest. You will then be under a witness-protection program…’

At this time, all I knew was that the World Trade Center in New York had been hit, but I had no idea about the other hit on the Pentagon and the failed hit on the White House. I had no idea of the immensity of 9/11…

I was sitting in a chair, hooded, with my hands handcuffed behind my back. He came up to me. His voice was deep and rough. He spoke to me in Egyptian and English. He said, ‘Listen, you don’t know who I am, but I am the one who has your life in his hands. Every singles person in this building has his life in my hands. I just make the decision.’

I said, ‘I hope your decision is that you make me die straight away.’

‘No, I don’t want you to die now. I want you to die slowly.’ He went on, ‘I can’t stay with you; my time is too valuable to stay here. You only have me to save you. I’m your saviour. You have to tell me everything, if your want to be saved. What do you say?’

‘I have nothing to tell you’….

Then they took me to another room, where they tortured me relentlessly, stripping me naked and applying electric shocks everywhere on my body. The next thing I remember was seeing the general again. He came into a room with a man from Turkistan; he was a big man but was stopped over, because his hands were chained to the shackles of his feet, preventing him from standing upright.

‘This guy is no use to us anymore. This is what is going to happen to you. We’ve had him for one hour, and this is what happens.

Suddenly, a guy they called Hanish, which means snake, came at the poor man from behind and gave him a terrible karate kick that sent him crashing across the room. A guard went over to shake him, but he didn’t respond. Turning to the general, the guard said, ‘Basha, I think he’s dead.’

‘Throw him away then. Let the dogs have him.’

They dragged the dead man out. [pp. 111-114]

New Grand Jury Investigation On Torture, Or DoJ Smokescreen?

7:09 pm in Torture, Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Smoke Screen Protects Ships at Okinawa

Smoke Screen Protects Ships at Okinawa by England, on Flickr

News certainly travels fast, sometimes. While it took the U.S. government two years to reply to a request by a Spanish judge regarding whether or not the U.S. has instigated any investigations or proceedings against six high-level Bush administration figures named in a complaint by the Association for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners (see PDF), and it took another three weeks to get the response distributed to the parties involved, and yet another three weeks to have the news of this response released to the world at large, it took less than 24 hours to learn that the entire case was dismissed by the Spanish judge on Wednesday.

In effect, Judge Eloy Velasco sent the case back to the U.S. at the request of the Department of Justice, who argued in their March 1, 2011 letter to the judge that the U.S. is plenty interested in investigating and prosecuting torture and other war crimes. Besides the cases of CIA contractors David Passaro and Don Ayala (Marcy Wheeler discusses the Passaro case here), assorted Defense Department prosecutions of “bad apple” abusers, and the lingering Durham investigation, the U.S. representation cannot dredge up any significant criminal investigations — except one (if it is one).

The letter rogatory to the Spanish court refers to “pending federal investigations by the United States Attorneys’ Office for the Eastern District of Virginia” on “various allegations of abuse of detainees.” (p. 3-4 of letter) In addition the letter refers to “pending status and legal restrictions on the disclosure of investigative information, including rules of grand jury secrecy”. Since there has been no previous reports on current grand jury proceedings in the Eastern District on detainee abuse that I know of, is this a reference to the former cases since sent from the Eastern District by Attorney General Holder in 2009 for review by special prosecutor John Durham? Or is this something new? Have some of the cases under preliminary review by Mr. Durham now reached full investigation status?

DoJ Keeps Mum on Virginia “Pending” Investigation

In response to such questions, Dean Boyd, spokesman for the National Security Division at the Department of Justice replied to me today, “There is nothing further I can provide to you on this matter beyond what is in the document.”

Since the U.S. representation to the Spanish court was meant to convince the judge that the U.S. was serious about seeking investigations and prosecutions regarding torture, it is important to know whether a new stage in the otherwise dilatory investigations by the Obama administration, who famously has announced it would rather look forward and not backwards when it comes to investigating torture, has been hereby announced, or whether this was a con job by DoJ, describing the Eastern District grand jury as somehow still in play, when in reality, its actions on detainee abuse are non-existent, waiting for some determination of the review by Durham and his office.
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The “New” Egypt: “Virginity Tests” for Protesters

9:59 am in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

While I’ve little time to blog today, this particular story seemed especially worthy of promotion. Amnesty International has sent the following mailing to its supporters (emphasis in original):

The Egyptian military may have just hit a disturbing, new low: at least 18 women who were arrested during a peaceful protest in Tahrir Square on March 9 said they were forced to take “virginity tests”.

Those women were threatened with charges of prostitution if they “failed” the tests. One woman, who said she was a virgin but whose test supposedly proved otherwise, was beaten and given electric shocks.

Journalist William Fisher at The Public Record rightly notes, “I know this sounds like something out of Torquemada in the 15th Century or Mengele in the 20th. But it’s neither. It’s post-Mubarak Egypt in the second decade of the 21st Century.”

Twenty-year-old Salwa Hosseini told Amnesty International that after she was arrested and taken to a military prison in Heikstep, she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window. During the strip search, Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women.

The women were then subjected to ‘virginity tests’ in a different room by a man in a white coat….

According to information received by Amnesty International, one woman who said she was a virgin but whose test supposedly proved otherwise was beaten and given electric shocks.

‘Virginity tests’ are a form of torture when they are forced or coerced.

Amnesty International is asking people to write to Hillary Clinton to get her “to use her influence to demand immediate action.” I am less sanguine that she will either a) do that, or b) really give a damn.

Those who thought the “revolution” was over don’t understand that it’s hardly begun, and can easily be derailed onto the same old paths. The military in Egypt is not to be trusted, and those who think it will reform that country are terribly mistaken. What will it take to end illusions in such ideas?

Jared Loughner’s Possible Mental Illness

4:07 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

As more details are revealed about the background of purported 22-year-old shooter Jared Loughner, who is in custody currently for the shooting in Tucson today of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Federal Judge John Rell and a number of others, at least five of whom have died, a number of people are speculating about his possible mental illness. One diagnosis that keeps arising is schizophrenia.  It’s worth looking into what that might mean.

Over the course of my psychology career,  I have worked with schizophrenic individuals, and most are quite afraid of the world, and are far more likely to be victims than victimizers. However, there are a small minority whose delusions have led them to commit crimes.

I am a licensed psychologist and from afar, and am not in the position to diagnose Mr. Loughner. However, one can make some initial impressionistic comments based upon the video content he posted on YouTube. The autistic, in the sense of highly encapsulated and personal, nature of his thought processes, his emphasis on coercion from without (see his discussion about being taught letters of the alphabet), the strange nature of his logic and language, the paranoid attitude toward the world in general, are consistent with known cases of schizophrenia, paranoid type.

I cannot know if he is the shooter, but his videos do display a garbled mixture of political concerns, and there is a great deal about conscience (“conscience dreams”), about not doing wrong, about the definition of “terrorist”, about “grammar” and “currency”, about “brainwashing” and “mind control”. At times, appears as if he’s grappling with something struggling inside himself.

There are also indications of a sense of multiple internal selves, or a dissociated kind of experience (“conscience dreaming”) that may also mean he had dissociated personality as well. In fact, this combination of dissociated identity and schizophrenia is much more highly associated with violence than schizophrenia alone. Then again, his comments may only appear to indicate such dissociative processes, and be better accounted for by a thought disorder.

If one researches the words “conscience dreaming” online, you will find a YouTube video with that title, not by Mr. Loughner, and no connection with the latter is inferred, except that he may have watched the video. The video concerns three characters, The Agent, The Assassin, and The Dream Maker. There is also one imprisoned anonymous character. I find it quite coincidental to say the least that a phrase the supposed shooter used a number of times links to such a video which has such characters in it.

I would caution against implying any politics to someone who appears so disturbed, as his interpretation of political symbols and phrases are interpreted in a highly idiosyncratic and irrational way. However, if he were susceptible to violence, then the targets available by the given society, i.e., the rhetoric out there in the society, would have pointed him towards liberals, leftists, Muslims, or other minorities, and that kind of rhetoric has mainly been from the right-wing, as has been copiously commented upon.

As for whether such a person could be manipulated, it’s possible, but if he is as insane as he appears, he would have been a very unstable person upon which to base any such conspiracy. I tend to think, despite his talk about mind control and brainwashing, that he was not the subject of any such conspiracy. More likely, these concerns are more about such an individuals anxieties and paranoia about being controlled from without, about things outside himself threatening to invade his personal world. Concern with brainwashing is a common thread in narratives from schizophrenic individuals.

However, this doesn’t mean that mind control conspiracies by the government don’t exist. I’ve documented government documents, including of contemporary vintage, that prove such activity by the government still occurs. If one reads the history of this kind of research, attempts to really use mind control are not applied to schizophrenic individuals, though one does look for highly suggestible individuals, and then apply drugs and hypnosis and other programming techniques. The success or failure of such enterprises is highly classified.

My condolences to all who were affected by this terrible tragedy in Tucson today.

Update:

Here’s an example taken from one of Mr. Loughner’s videos, showing the strangeness of his thinking and language, which is circular, syntactically intact, but with extremely opaque meaning, which relies on repetitiveness. The language implies something very profound, which only the thinker understands:

Firstly, the current government officials are in power for their currency, but I’m informing you for your new currency! If you’re treasurer for a new money system, then you’re responsible for the distribution of a new currency! We now know — the treasurer for a new money system, is the distributor of the new currency. As a result, the people approve a new money system which is promising new information that’s accurate, and we truly believe in a new currency. And above else, you have your new currency, listener?

Second, my hope is for you to be — literate! If you’re literate in English grammar, then you comprehend English grammar. The majority of people, who reside in District 8, are illiterate — hilarious! I don’t control your English grammar structure, but you control your English grammar structure.

This is not the ramblings of a right-wing crackpot, which some have claimed Loughner to be, but gibberish. This doesn’t take away from the possibility Loughner reacted to right-wing propaganda, but quite likely out of madness, not political motivation, such as we understand such motivation.

Obama “Stealth Transfer” of Gitmo Prisoner, Algerian Forcibly Repatriated

3:37 pm in Military, Torture, Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

The Obama administration has shown a blatant disregard for international treaties and basic human rights in its second forcible deportation from Guantánamo of an Algerian national in the last six months. On January 6, the administration secretly and forcibly repatriated 48-year-old Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed to Algeria, which he reportedly fled in the 1990s, trying to escape threats from Islamic extremists. In a press release from Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the deportation, CCR noted that “Mr. Mohammed has long been cleared of any connection with terrorism.”

Farhi had been ordered released from Guantánamo , when District Court Judge Gladys Kessler granted his habeas petition. He had spent nearly nine years at the U.S. prison facility, most of the time in maximum security solitary confinement. While the former itinerant laborer said he had traveled to Afghanistan to find a wife for himself, the Pentagon presented “evidence” from unreliable informers to frame Mr. Mohammed as a supporter of Al Qaeda. Presumably, Judge Kessler was unimpressed by this evidence. What is undisputed is that after 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Farhi fled to Pakistan where he was captured and subsequently transferred to Guantanamo in 2002.

Once cleared by the District Court, Mr. Mohammed fought the government not to be sent back to his native Algeria, fearing persecution by either Islamic militants or by the government. Indeed, every Algerian Guantanamo prisoner sent back to that country thus far has been initially arrested and put on trial, though none have been convicted. U.S. authorities have said they conducted a “comprehensive review” of Farhi’s case prior to his release. The U.S. government maintains that “the Algerian government has provided so-called ‘diplomatic assurances’ – promises to treat returned detainees humanely.” But Human Rights Watch watch replied that “research has shown that diplomatic assurances provided by receiving countries, which are legally unenforceable, do not provide an effective safeguard against torture and ill-treatment. Algerian human rights groups report that torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment are at times used on those suspected of terror links.”

Torture and Persecution in Algeria

Indeed, the last U.S. State Department Human Rights Report on Algeria, released February 25, 2009, indicated numerous problems with conditions in that country. While torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment is illegal, human rights activists “local human rights activists reported that government officials employed such practices to obtain confessions,” and “impunity remained a problem.” The report singled out a February 2008 incident when an inmate protest on prayer conditions resulted in prison guards handcuffing, stripping and beating “approximately 80 prisoners with iron bars and sticks.”

The State Department report also indicated noted that, except for the International Red Cross, all other human rights groups are forbidden to inspect conditions at Algerian military and high-security prisons and detention centers. Detainees are often held in jail without charges for months on end, and receive little or no medical care. The report also said, “in practice authorities did not completely respect legal provisions regarding defendants’ rights and denied due process. Military courts try all “cases involving state security, espionage, and other security-related offenses involving military personnel and civilians,” but only rarely is any information given about these proceedings. The government monitors “the communications of political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists,” as well as political meetings. The country remains under rule of an emergency degree. Meanwhile, radical Islamic extremists belonging to al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have “issued public threats against all ‘infidels’ and ‘apostates’ in the country, both foreigners and citizens, killing approximately 160 people in the country in 2008.

A prisoner or refugee cannot by international law be returned to a country where they fear persecution or death. This principle is enshrined in the UN Convention Against Torture treaty to which the U.S. is signatory: “No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler“) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

Furthermore, Article 33 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (July 28, 1951), to which the U.S. is also signatory, states: “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” (A 1967 Protocol expanded the Convention’s coverage from European to all refugees.) There is no question that Farhi meets the Convention’s definition of a refugee, and has since leaving Algeria in the 1990s, until wrongly apprehended by the U.S. in 2002.

The Role of Congress and the Courts

It is notable that Congress has played a role in this administration’s flouting of international law and decency. As Andy Worthington and others have pointed out, Congress has prevented the Obama from “bringing any Guantánamo prisoner to the US mainland for any reason”. In addition, as I pointed out in an article on the forcible deportation of Algerian Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Aziz Naji in July 2010, Congress has an oversight role over the release of any Guantánamo prisoner.

According to the 2010 Homeland Security Appropriations, Interior Appropriations, Consolidated Appropriations, and Defense Appropriations Acts, all of which contain similar language on the subject, no funds are to be appropriated for the transfer of a Guantanamo prisoner to another state unless 15 days prior to release the President submit to Congress, “in classified form,” a statement regarding any risks to national security or U.S. citizens, the name of the prisoner and country of release, and “the terms of any agreement with the country or freely associated state that has agreed to accept the detainee.” (See PDF link.)

At that time, Senator Carl Levin and Senator Dianne Feinstein’s offices confirmed they had been informed at least 15 days in advance of Naji’s deportation. There’s no reason to doubt they had the same notice in the case of Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, and essentially signed off on the forcible deportation, demonstrating Congressional complicity in this flagrant violation of the laws of the land.

Mr. Mohammed’s case had been high-profile. After the granting of his habeas petition, he fought a repatriation to Algeria, for the reasons stated earlier, and Judge Kessler granted that request. But, as Larkin Reynolds explains at Lawfare, “the D.C. Circuit later reversed that injunction in July, however, in an expedited summary proceeding.” Farhi’s attorneys then asked the Supreme Court for a stay of the Circuit court’s decision. While their petition was denied last July, another petition regarding the transfer issue was sent to the Supreme Court last November. According to Reynolds, “The government’s response to the petition is due on February 4, 2011.” But the forced deportation of Farhi apparently makes that decision moot.

David Remes, Farhi’s counsel in the Supreme Court case told Lawfare, the Obama administration’s actions amounted to a “stealth transfer”:

The government shipped Mr. Mohammed back to Algeria against his will –- the second involuntary transfer of an Algerian in the past six months -– giving us no advance notice and therefore no chance to resist. The government may also intend Mohammed’s transfer to moot his petition for review in the Supreme Court, in which he challenged the government’s right to make exactly this kind of involuntary transfer, that is, a transfer where the detainee fears he will be tortured or abused if he is returned. The government has used this tactic to avoid judicial review of its actions in other cases involving military detention of war-on-terror captives -– Padilla, Al-Mar’i, and Abu Ali are examples. From Mr. Mohammed’s case, it’s apparent the government wants to avoid public scrutiny too.

The Role of the Democratic Party

The government’s actions in the case of should be sharply condemned, but outside of some human rights groups, almost nothing is being said or reported on this crime by our own government. (The Washington Post did report the story.) The fact that a Democratic administration, and practically up to the time he was secretly deported, a Democratic Congress, were the primary actors in this decision is something that appears to fly over the heads of most Democratic Party and Obama supporters, for whom nothing, not even plans to issue an executive order allowing indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, seems to move to principled action.

The U.S. currently holds 173 detainee-prisoners at Guantánamo. Three other Algerians remain at the Naval prison facility, also fearing forced deportation for reasons similar to that of Farhi Faheed bin Mohammed, and Abdul Aziz Naji. The three other cleared Algerians are Motai Saib, Djamel Ameziane and Nabil Hadjarab, and Andy Worthington covered their stories in an article in July 2009.

This latest move by the Obama administration must have thrown fear into these prisoners, assuming they have heard of it. But it should throw fear into Americans as well, as their government has shown that it has little patience for such things as the rule of law. Consider these unlawful deportations along with the story of the torture of 19-year old American citizen Gulet Mohamed last month by U.S. ally Kuwait, after he was placed on a no-fly list by the Americans. The U.S. reportedly collaborated in Mohamed’s detention, and should be held partly responsible for Mohamed’s torture.

Unreported Detainee Deaths at Guantanamo in Jan-Feb 2002?

4:57 pm in Military, Torture, Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

According to the transcript (PDF) of a February 19, 2002 meeting of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board (AFEB), “[a] number of the detainees have died of the wounds that they arrived with” at Guantanamo. This statement came from Captain Alan “Jeff” Yund, a preventive medicine doctor and the Navy’s liaison officer to the AFEB, as he discussed “mortuary affairs” at Guantanamo, part of a larger discussion on health issues at the new prison facility.

During the meeting, Captain Yund identified himself as working directly with Admiral Steven Hart, the Director of Navy Medicine Research and Development, as well as “a number of other admirals.”

Yund’s full quote is as follows, on pg. 108 of the transcript (bold added):

Mortuary affairs is an important but hopefully small aspect of the activities of the [Guantanamo] hospital. A number of the detainees have died of the wounds that they arrived with. So there’s attention being paid to doing the things with the body that would be appropriate for their culture.

In a December 7 email interview with Captain Yund, who is now retired, Yund stated he does “not recall that I was ever very directly involved in detainee health issues” at Guantanamo. Accordingly, he said the following in regards to his statement about detainee deaths:

“I did not make that statement from personal or direct knowledge. It may have come from CAPT Shimkus’ presentation, or possibly from conversations or meetings with other Navy Preventive Medicine personnel colleagues. It is not the type of statement I would have made without having learned it from a source I considered reliable.”

The reference to “CAPT Shimkus” is to Captain Albert J. Shimkus, commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Hospital at Guantanamo at the time, and JTF 160 chief surgeon. Captain Lund explained that he remembered hearing a “a detailed and fascinating account” of “events and issues” at Guantanamo, though he couldn’t remember the date or place. This is the “presentation” to which Captain Yund refers in his explanation above.

In a telephone interview on December 13 with Captain Shimkus, who now is an Associate Professor in National Security Decision Making at the U.S. Naval War College, Shimkus expressed shock over the claims there were any deaths at Guantanamo while he was there. (Captain Shimkus left Guantanamo in August 2003.) He said that “no deaths occurred” while he was there, but that he did speak at the time of the task force preparing for possible deaths. He could not offer any explanation for what Captain Yund reported.

In the AFEB transcript itself, there is no surprise or other comment or correction made on on Yund’s announcement concerning detainee deaths. The meeting was also attended by other military medical staff, civilian medical advisers, and upper-levels of the DoD bureaucracy, including Admiral Hart, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Health Protection and Readiness, Dr. William Winkenwerder, and his deputy, Ellen Embrey. The meeting, held at the Island Club, North Island Naval Air Station, San Diego, was chaired by Dr. Steven Ostroff from the Centers for Disease Control.

By all accounts, in the initial days of prisoner transfer to Guantanamo, a number of detainees arrived with serious battle wounds. Notes from a doctor working at the facility, dated February 22, 2002, which I reviewed, discuss the previous day’s cardio-thoracic and neurosurgeries. A thoracotomy (excision of a portion of a lung) was said to have been performed on detainee “205.” The same day’s notes also describe an incident in which a detainee was handcuffed via a broken arm.

In response to my initial inquiry on 2002 detainee deaths at Guantanamo, Major Bradsher replied fully as follows:

The first detainee death at Guantanamo Bay was in June 2006. The [June 16] press
release is below:
http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=9656

The press release refers to the “three detainees who died of apparent suicides on June 10, 2006,” and is a summary of the disposition of the remains.

After receiving this first communication from DoD’s press operations office, I asked for further clarification, and in particular “as to why a Captain at an Armed Forces Epidemiological Board meeting in Feb. 2002 would refer to earlier deaths at Guantanamo, ostensibly from battlefield wounds.”

Major Bradsher responded, “I can’t speak for Captain Yund. As I have stated before, the first detainee fatality in Guantanamo was in June 2006.”

At this point, what we have is a mystery. There are no other reports regarding early battlefield deaths among the prisoners rendered to Guantanamo. We know that some of them arrived on litters, and needed immediate medical attention. We know that officials there even expected some deaths. But DoD maintains that no deaths prior to June 2006 occurred, and the principal reporter to the AFEB meeting on this subject, Captain Yund, does not remember the statement, though he notes “it is not the type of statement I would have made without having learned it from a source I considered reliable.”

Dr. Steven Miles, author of Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror, shared his reaction to news of the possible deaths reported here:

This is an enormously important event. I have tried, without success to have the DoD or the media, clarify the huge inconsistencies in prisoner death reporting to no avail. My article on this remains unpublished by the medical media and by Slate etc.

The uncertainty over what really occurred in the early days at Guantanamo was accentuated by recent revelations by Truthout.org and Seton Hall University of Law’s Center for Policy and Research on the mass administration of the drug mefloquine to detainees who arrived at Guantanamo. Ostensibly described as an antimalarial measure, there are numerous reasons to question its use, not least because of its well-known high rates of neuro-psychiatric side effects, and also because such mass empiric treatment of mefloquine has never occurred and experts found such use potentially harmful and without medical justification.

Truthout has promised further investigation into the mefloquine scandal, including interviews with some of the principles involved, in a report to be published in the coming week.

There is a tremendous need for Congressional and/or independent investigations that have full mandate and subpoena power to ferret out the truth about what has occurred at Guantanamo and other U.S. “war on terror” prisons. The biggest obstacle to this, besides the Pentagon and the GOP, is the Democratic Party leadership itself, which refuses to undertake or fund such investigations, and whose leader in the White House, President Barack Obama, opposes — against treaty obligations described in Article 12 of the Convention Against Torture — such investigations.