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Why the U.S. Wants Military Commission Show Trials for 9/11 Suspects

5:17 pm in Military, Terrorism, Torture by Jeff Kaye

A number of commentators have replied to Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement today that five suspects in the 9/11 attacks, including alleged Al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will not be tried in civilian courts for the terrorist attacks almost ten years ago, but will be tried by President Obama’s revamped military commissions tribunals. What no commentator has stated thus far is the plain truth that the commissions’ main purpose is to produce government propaganda, not justice. These are meant to be show trials, part of an overarching plan of “exploitation” of prisoners, which includes, besides a misguided attempt by some to gain intelligence data, the inducement of false confessions and the recruitment of informants via torture. The aim behind all this is political: to mobilize the U.S. population for imperialist war adventures abroad, and political repression and economic austerity at home.

Holder claims he wanted civilian trials that would “prove the defendants’ guilt while adhering to the bedrock traditions and values of our laws.” The Attorney General blamed Congress for passing restrictions on bringing Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for making civilian trials inside the United States impossible. Marcy Wheeler has noted that the Congressional restrictions related to the Department of Defense, not the Department of Justice, and there is plenty of reason to believe the Obama administration could have pressed politicians on this issue, but chose not to. (Others see it differently.)

Human rights organizations have responded with dismay, if not outrage. Center for Constitutional Rights, whose attorneys have been active in the legal defense of a number of Guantanamo prisoners, stated, “The announcement underscores the fact that decisions about whether to try detainees in federal court or by military commission are purely political. The decision is clearly driven not by the nature of the alleged offense, or where and when it was committed, but by the unpopularity of the detainee and the political culture in Washington.” CCR also compared the precedent-setting behavior to “Egypt’s apparent plans to use military trials for protesters at Tahir Square.”

Human Rights First spokesperson Daphne Eviatar said, “Decisions on where to prosecute suspected terrorists should be made based on careful legal analysis, not on politics. This purely political decision risks making a second-class justice system a permanent feature U.S. national security policy – a mistake that flies in the face of core American values and would undermine U.S. standing around the world.”

Most organizations stressed the fact that this was an about-face for the Obama administration. Indeed, one of the oldest human rights organizations in the United States, Human Rights Watch, called the decision a “blow to justice.” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth said, “The military commissions system is flawed beyond repair. By resurrecting this failed Bush administration idea, President Obama is backtracking dangerously on his reform agenda.”

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers statement concentrated on the faults of the military commissions themselves, headlining their press release, “At Guantanamo, “Detainees Are Presumed Guilty”:

“Despite some cosmetic changes since the Bush-era commissions, the commission rules still permit the government to introduce secret evidence, hearsay and statements obtained through coercion,” said the association’s Executive Director, Norman Reimer. “NACDL maintains that the rules and procedures for these commission trials raise serious questions about the government’s commitment to constitutional principles upon which our country was founded. “

Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, echoed this today when he called the military commissions “rife with constitutional and procedural problems,” noting the outstanding cases “are sure to be subject to continuous legal challenges and delays, and their outcomes will not be seen as legitimate.”

The Origins of the Military Commissions

CCR, HRF, HRW, and NACDL are all correct, so far as they go. It is evident to many observers that only peculiar military exigency, backed by facts, could allow for military tribunals, as the Supreme Court’s 2006 Hamden decision made clear. It is a matter of historical record that the Bush-era military commissions policy, adopted by President Barack Obama, was initially pushed by former CIA employees William Barr and David Addington, with the encouragement of former Vice President Dick Cheney, along with other “War Council” participants John Yoo, Defense Department counsel under Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, and Bush lawyers Alberto Gonzales and Timothy Flanigan.

At the same time the military commissions proposal was initiated, via a military order by Bush, the Bush administration was stripping detainees of Geneva Conventions protections, as well as implementing a program of torture, with Haynes soliciting the Pentagon’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) as early as December 2001 for techniques used in the “exploitation” of prisoners.

In a recent article by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye, it was shown that the JPRA program that was “reverse-engineered” was Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course SV-91, “Special Survival for Special Mission Units,” whose mission was to train U.S. military and intelligence personnel to withstand torture meant to “exploit” them for enemy purposes. Those purposes went far beyond the gathering of intelligence. As then-SERE psychologist Bruce Jessen, who was later to work as a contract psychologist and interrogator for the CIA beginning in 2002, noted in notes for SV-91 written in 1989:

“From the moment you are detained (if some kind of exploitation is your Detainer’s goal) everything your Detainer does will be contrived to bring about these factors: CONTROL, DEPENDENCY, COMPLIANCE AND COOPERATION,” Jessen wrote. “Your detainer will work to take away your sense of control. This will be done mostly by removing external control (i.e., sleep, food, communication, personal routines etc. )…Your detainer wants you to feel ‘EVERYTHING’ is dependent on him, from the smallest detail, (food, sleep, human interaction), to your release or your very life … Your detainer wants you to comply with everything he wishes. He will attempt to make everything from personal comfort to your release unavoidably connected to compliance in your mind.”

Jessen wrote that cooperation is the “end goal” of the detainer, who wants the detainee “to see that [the detainer] has ‘total’ control of you because you are completely dependent on him, and thus you must comply with his wishes. Therefore, it is absolutely inevitable that you must cooperate with him in some way (propaganda, special favors, confession, etc.).”

A former colleague of Dr. Jessen, and along with him a founder of the SV-91 SERE class, former Captain Michael Kearns told Leopold and Kaye:

“What I think is important to note, as an ex-SERE Resistance to Interrogation instructor, is the focus of Jessen’s instruction. It is exploitation, not specifically interrogation. And this is not a picayune issue, because if one were to ‘reverse-engineer’ a course on resistance to exploitation then what one would get is a plan to exploit prisoners, not interrogate them. The CIA/DoD torture program appears to have the same goals as the terrorist organizations or enemy governments for which SV-91 and other SERE courses were created to defend against: the full exploitation of the prisoner in his intelligence, propaganda, or other needs held by the detaining power, such as the recruitment of informers and double agents. Those aspects of the US detainee program have not generally been discussed as part of the torture story in the American press.”

The Stalinist governments of the USSR and East Europe used to make a great practice of show trials, one of the most famous being the trial of Hungarian Cardinal Mindszenty. Arthur Koestler’s famous book Darkness at Noon is about the show trial and confession of an “old Bolshevik” under Stalin’s regime. Such show trials still occur in many parts of the world, from China and Vietnam, to Indonesia, Burma, Iran, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and the list could go on and on.

That list now includes the United States, where most recently, former child prisoner Omar Khadr was tried in a military commission, pleading guilty with a coerced confession, after years of torture and imprisonment in solitary confinement, his penalty phase of the military tribunal amounting to a show trial, complete with psychiatric “expert” testimony about Khadr’s supposed propensity for “terrorism.” The result? A 40-year sentence for the young man who never spent a free day as an adult, part of a staged deal with the U.S. military prosecutors, who presumably will release Khadr to Canadian authorities in a year or so, where he will continue to be imprisoned, pending any appeals there. But the penalty “trial” got a lot of press, and the U.S. was able to garner a propaganda “victory.”

Without Accountability, Whither America?

The United States is only a small step away from some kind of dictatorship. This may sound like hyperbole to some, but the lack of a clear and strong opposition to military and intelligence community institutional pressures has driven the Obama administration to the right even of the Bush administration on matters of secrecy and executive power. Proposals for “terrorist” or “national security” courts continue to be seriously considered, while the public uproar over the use of torture on prisoners has died down ever since Barack Obama told his Democratic Party followers not to “look back,” and made clear that accountability for war crimes would not happen on his watch. Meanwhile, tremendous inroads are made on privacy rights, while surveillance of private citizens, strip searches at airports, seizures of personal computers, and gathering of personal data from emails and phone calls are now everyday occurrences.

As a result, Obama has been the active creature of militarist forces within the government, and on point after point, has given way to lobbying by the military and intelligence establishments, themselves beholden to a power elite that holds the economic reins of the country, from oil to finance, in their hands. Obama’s role is most evident in his recent military actions against Libya.

The courts, too, have stepped back from their gesture towards judicial independence under Bush, with the Supreme Court ruling today that it would not hear three Guantánamo detainee cases, appeals on rejected habeas reviews regarding Fawzi Khalid Abdullah Fahad Al Odah, Ghaleb Nassar Al-Bihani and Adham Mohammed Ali Awad. While the cases concerned issues surrounding use of hearsay, other evidentiary standards, the role of international law, and the right to a meaningful challenge to detention, the Court gave no explanation for denial of cert. Courthouse News noted, by the way, that new Justice Elena Kagan “does not appear to have recused herself from consideration of two of the cases because of her prior work as U.S. Solicitor General.”

Meanwhile, some anti-torture activists are trying to pursue accountability the best they can, going after the licensure status of mental health professionals who participated in the Bush torture regime. Complaints against former Guantanamo Chief Psychologist Larry James and CIA contract interrogator James Mitchell have not gotten very far, with their cases dismissed.

Another case against former Major John Leso, a psychologist working for the DoD Behavioral Science Consultation Team at Guantanamo, who in 2002 helped write an interrogation protocol that relied in part on SERE “reverse-engineered” torture techniques, was also dismissed, but according to Raw Story, this Tuesday the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) will ask the New York Supreme Court to reconsider the decision of the New York State Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) not to investigate the misconduct complaint against Leso.

The issue of the military commissions must be considered in the context of its embedded existence as part of a full-scale exploitation plan upon prisoners, implemented as part of a war policy with strong imperialist ambitions, initiated by the United States in the aftermath of 9/11. The agitation for such a war preceded 9/11. The terrorist attack set lose this militarist policy, whose appurtenances — military tribunals, exploitation of prisoners, psychological warfare, secret prisons, false confessions, experimental torture programs, and unchecked executive power — threaten to end the semblance of democracy in the United States once and for all.

While Texas Dismisses Torture Charges Against James Mitchell, Other Investigations Under Political Pressures

6:16 pm in Torture by Jeff Kaye

Danny Robbins at Associated Press reported last Friday that the Texas State Board of Examiners dismissed a licensing complaint filed by a Texas psychologist against former SERE psychologist James Mitchell. Mitchell was accused of “violating the standards demanded by the Psychologists‘ Licensing Act and the Board‘s Rules of Practice” (PDF). Specifically, the complaint cited Mitchell’s role in the design and implementation of a torture program, “ignoring the complete lack of a scientific basis for the regime‘s safety and—assuming its safety—its effectiveness,” as well as his actual participation in the torture of prisoners such as Abu Zubaydah.

The complaint against Mitchell was filed on June 16, 2010, and was signed by Texas psychologist Jim L.H. Cox. Attorneys Dicky Grigg and Joseph Margulies were also signatories to the complaint. Grigg and Margulies have also represented Guantanamo prisoners before the government.

According to the AP story, “The board said there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Mitchell violated its rules,” despite the fact that “thousands of pages of evidence, including sworn testimony, tying Mitchell to practices that violate professional ethics” were presented to the board. It is not known if Mitchell utilized in his board defense any of the $5 million “indemnity” defense fund set up by the CIA for use in legal defense for Michell and his CIA contractor partner, Bruce Jessen.

The hearing was held on February 10. Proceedings were held in secret session, and only Mitchell and his representative were present before the three board members. No complainants were at the hearing. Two days later, the board issued its finding of dismissal. Strangely, no reports of the Texas board decision surfaced for another two weeks.

As AP notes, the Mitchell decision follows the dismissal of other cases brought before boards in New York, Ohio, and Louisiana, concerning other military psychologists, Major John Leso and Colonel Larry James. Late last year, the Center for Justice and Accountability and the New York ACLU filed asked a New York court “to order the New York Office of Professional Discipline (OPD) to perform its duty to investigate a complaint of professional misconduct against Dr. John Francis Leso, who, as asserted in the complaint, violated professional standards when he designed and participated in the abusive interrogation program at Guantánamo.”

Worldwide Actions to Hold the Torturers Accountable

The decision of the Texas state board also comes in the context of a number of legal actions worldwide to bring the Bush-era torturers to justice. Lawyers and international human rights activists and organizations continue to press for investigations and prosecutions of the torture of Abu Zubaydah and other “high-value” detainees held in CIA black site prisons around the world, or sent to foreign countries for torture as part of the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program.

Most recently, the Spanish National Court announced it had the competent standing to proceed with the investigations into the torture of former Guantanamo prisoner Lahcen Ikassrien, since he had been a Spanish resident for 13 years. Center for Constitutional Rights said in regards to the decision:

Since the U.S. government has not only failed to investigate the illegal actions of its own officials and, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, also sought to interfere in the Spanish judicial process and stop the case from proceeding, this will be the first real investigation of the U.S. torture program. This is a victory for accountability and a blow against impunity.

Meanwhile, in Poland, where the U.S. constructed one of the CIA black site prisons, authorities were stymied in their efforts to secure U.S. cooperation into their country’s investigation into the CIA activities at the black site near the Szymany air base in northern Poland. The Obama administration cited an international Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, whereby “a country has the right to refuse to provide legal assistance if the execution of the request would encroach on this country’s security or another interest of this country.” Requests for an investigation were forwarded by legal represenatives of former CIA prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

In a direct rebuff to the United States, a Polish state prosecutor last January became “the first state official to accept Abu Zubaydah’s claims that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland.” Zubaydah is being represented by Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski, who is working with the British human rights charities Interights and Reprieve, in addition to U.S. lawyers Joseph Margulies and Brent Mickum. Al-Nashiri was recognized as a “victim” of torture by Polish authorities last fall.

In Lithuania, where other black site prisons also operated, presumably near Vilnius, state authorities meanwhile have dropped investigations into torture, rendition and CIA activities. After initial support for an investigation of the prisons — one of them constructed at a former horse riding club — Prosecutor Darius Valys announced in January that the investigation was over. According to a report by Reprieve, Valys admitted “that three ex-security services agents had ‘abused their position’” but “oddly stopped short of addressing allegations of serious official crimes, including torture and illegal imprisonment.” In addition, the Lithuanian prosecutor made a pro forma nod to expired statutes of limitation, and also a bizarre charge that NGO “lack of transparency” had harmed the investigation.

Attorney Joseph Margulies replied, “The Prosecutor is trying to deflect blame for the failure of his investigation onto NGOs and the media. It’s ironic that an official investigation into a secret torture facility should claim to be thwarted because the media is insufficiently transparent.”

UK State Investigation Blasted by Human Rights Groups

A British government investigation into UK complicity with U.S. torture programs, announced last July after revelations in the UK court case on Binyam Mohamed, has met criticism from almost the beginning. In particular, the decision to have Sir Peter Gibson, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, responsible for monitoring secret bugging operations by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA), lead the investigation was questioned from the very start.

At this point, a number of British NGOs are so concerned that the inquiry, according to the UK Guardian,  “will fail to meet the UK’s obligations under international and domestic law,” that they are considering boycotting the proceedings. Nine of the NGOs – Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, JUSTICE, Liberty, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Redress, Reprieve, the AIRE Centre and British Irish Rights Watch — have written a letter to Gibson expressing their concerns.

The letter is substantive and detailed, and includes discussion of whether the inquiry as currently constituted can meet Article 3 (prohibition against torture) requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) regarding promptness, independence, and thoroughness. In addition, the NGO signatories note the insufficiency of public scrutiny and victim participation, the lack of effective remedy and redress for victims, secrecy invoked over the material to be presented, and “the lack of any current powers to compel the production of documents or the attendance of witnesses.”

Another outstanding issue facing the inquiry concerns the last British resident in Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer. As Andy Worthington pointed out in an article on the torture inquiry, due to begin this coming week, Aamer “is still held despite being cleared for release by a military review board in 2007, when President Bush was still in power.” Aamer is the only British torture prisoner to directly claim “that British agents were in the room when he was tortured by US operatives in the US prison in Kandahar prior to his transfer to Guantánamo in February 2002.” Worthington notes that the British inquiry “cannot legitimately begin while he is still held,” as Aamer is a crucial witness as to UK participation, “whose testimony Sir Peter Gibson will need to hear if the inquiry is to have any credibility.”

What Is to Be Done?

It is perhaps unavoidable that the efforts to establish investigations and promote accountability have been led by attorneys and human rights activists (most of them attorneys, too, by the way). As a result, the movement for accountability appears to rise and fall based on the legal decisions of governments, administrative boards, military commissions, and non-U.S. governmental prosecutors. While these legal actions are necessary, and the lawyers and NGO personnel involved deserve our thanks, at the same time the anti-torture movement suffers from an over-reliance on legalism at the expense of social struggle to end the use of torture.

On the other end of the spectrum, groups that promote local activism to bring justice to torture victims or accountability to war criminals like John Yoo, tend to get lost in overly parochial approaches, which when they fail, as in the case of the defeat of a Berkeley, California measure to endorse resettling cleared Guantanamo detainees in that city, promote demoralization and/or endless rounds of campaigning, with little or no progress. While such activists also deserve praise for their efforts, behind the scenes they too express frustration over what course of action might bring greater success.

The underlying problem is political, and lies in a refusal to take on the legitimacy of the so-called “war on terror,” which the U.S. uses as an excuse for the extension of its power abroad in support of corporations that seek to extend their economic influence and power, and which are interpenetrated with the U.S. military and intelligence establishment in that effort. It is apposite to notice, too, the efforts of the government to interdict and obstruct the work of anti-government critics, as the recent revelations surrounding FBI abuse and HBGary make abundantly clear.

In addition, effective action means taking on the misleadership and perfidy of both political parties, both Democratic and Republican. The Obama administration’s refusal to investigate war crimes, and its implication in ongoing war crimes (abuse of prisoners, assassination, use of drones) has not seriously been challenged by the liberal establishment.

The issue of U.S. or British torture is not really separable from issues of war abroad and domestic crackdown on civil liberties at home. Nor is it separable from the economic policies of the United States, which under both political parties has favored the enrichment of a privileged class over the immiseration of large portions of the population.

Nothing demonstrates the bankruptcy of the current ruling elites than the use of torture and assassination. The fight against torture must mean a full political assault against the legitimacy of a state apparatus and its defenders, who use such horrific means as torture as a bulwark against those who they fear challenge their rule and privileges. It must also involve the full use of the social power of civil society (unions, churches, professional organizations), which thus far have remained wedded to leaderships that will not challenge the electoral mastery of a morally and politically bankrupt two-party system.

CJA Challenges NY State Decision Re Jurisdiction on Torture Psychologist

5:55 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

On August 15, I reported that the New York Office of Professional Discipline (NYOP) had rejected a complaint against BSCT psychologist Major John Leso for his participation in the planning and implementation of torture at Guantanamo. Louis J. Catone at NYOP used specious arguments to deny that the agency had any jurisdiction over the Leso case. Today, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) issued a press release in answer to the NYOP decision, and has also asked the American Psychological Association "to expel Dr. Leso from its association and to recommend revocation of his license."

From CJA’s press release (bold text in original):

CENTER FOR JUSTICE AND ACCOUNTABILITY STEPS UP EFFORTS TO HOLD GUANTÁNAMO BAY PSYCHOLOGIST ACCOUNTABLE

CJA Responds to the New York Office of Professional Discipline With a Repeat Demand for Investigation of a Guantánamo Bay Psychologist Who Participated in Torture; CJA Also Calls on American Psychological Association to Expel Him From the Organization

San Francisco, CA – This week, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) stepped up its efforts to hold psychologist Dr. John Francis Leso accountable for his participation in abusive interrogation and torture of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. In a letter to the New York Office of Professional Discipline (NYOP), CJA reiterated its request for an investigation of Dr. Leso for his clear violations of psychologists’ professional standards. Earlier this month, the NYOP, which is responsible for licensing and regulating the conduct of New York psychologists, denied CJA’s initial request for an investigation of Dr. Leso because it claimed it did not have jurisdiction.

In its letter to NYOP, CJA stated, “This Office is obliged to investigate instances of possible misconduct by New York licensees, and it is the only office authorized to do so. Your authority and responsibility in this case stem not only from the State of New York but also from federal law…. The Complaint details multiple instances in which, in his capacity as a professional psychologist, Dr. Leso crossed the line and committed misconduct.” Read the rest of this entry →

Psychological Group Charges APA with Complicity in Bush-era Torture Interrogations

2:43 pm in Uncategorized by Jeff Kaye

Coalition for an Ethical Psychology (CEP) has issued a press release on the eve of the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA), currently underway in San Diego, California. CEP announces that it has sent a letter (PDF) to Carol Goodheart, current APA president, charging the APA with "its own complicity in supporting and empowering psychologists" in the development, research, supervision and/or implementation of interrogation torture abuses during the Bush years.

The CEP press release states:

This complicity includes APA involvement in the cases of three psychologists – James Mitchell, John Leso, and Larry James – against whom ethics complaints have recently been filed with state licensing boards. APA complicity goes back to 2002 when the association amended its ethics code in a way that protected psychologists involved in government sponsored torture.

The Coalition is calling for an independent, impartial, outside investigation to study the APA’s collusion in the U.S. torture program. The Coalition also calls upon the APA to write letters in support of state ethics complaints against APA members Larry James and John Leso, and to initiate an APA ethics investigation of Larry James. The Coalition further insists that the association fully implement the member-passed referendum withdrawing psychologists from sites in violation of or outside of international law, specifically including Guantánamo and Bagram Air Base.

APA’s Letter in the James Mitchell Complaint

On June 30, the American Psychological Association (APA) wrote a letter (PDF) to the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists. By APA’s own account, it was an unusual intervention into a licensing board complaint against former Air Force/SERE psychologist and CIA contractor, James Mitchell, who has been identified as involved in the abusive interrogation and torture of supposed Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah in the spring and summer of 2002. The U.S. government has since dropped its assertion that Mr. Zubaydah was even a member of Al Qaeda, though he remains imprisoned as a "high-value detainee" at Guantanamo Bay.

The complaint against Mitchell was filed on June 16, 2010, and is signed by Texas psychologist Jim L.H. Cox. Attorneys Dicky Grigg and Joseph Margulies are also signatories to the document.

While the APA gives the impression that it is interested about intervening in a licensing complaint against Mitchell — the Complaint (PDF) cites Mitchell with violations of rules regarding competency, improper sexual conduct, exploitation of authority, research without informed consent, and more — an examination of APA’s letter and the context of their intervention suggests that APA’s action is disingenuous at best, and more likely, a continuation of APA’s attempt to rewrite the history of their own participation in the torture scandal.

According to their letter, APA was writing to the Texas State Board to describe how "its Ethical Principles for Psychologists and Code of Conduct as well as relevant Association policies, apply to facts set forth in the [Mitchell] Complaint." Even so, the APA states it will not comment on any of the facts submitted in the Complaint, explaining they will limit their "information sharing… to APA policies on torture" only. According to APA, it is the Board’s responsibility to adjudicate the matter according to its own procedures, including the responsibility to "consider Dr. Mitchell’s explanation."

Meanwhile, APA spokeswoman Rhea Farberman described the letter to an AP reporter as an unprecedented action for APA, which was compelled "to act" by the seriousness of the allegations. The subsequent AP story was widely reported, usually with a headline that explained the APA wanted Mitchell stripped of his license to practice psychology. Yet a close reading of the letter demonstrates that APA was essentially concerned by how "the allegations regarding Dr. Mitchell’s conduct… [and] the scope of misperception and harm regarding the public’s understanding of the profession of psychology" (emphasis added). In other words, the APA was mostly concerned about the image of professional psychology, and not by the fact the U.S. government had used psychologists to develop and implement experiments into the torture of prisoners.

An APA President on the Board of Mitchell’s Company

There are many different ways in which the APA’s letter is disingenuous. The CEP letter (PDF) to APA President Goodman goes into some detail on these. Perhaps the most immediately apparent is the way APA disappears the association of one of its own leading members with Mitchell’s activities. The letter never mentions, and the AP story by Andrew Welsh-Huggins never alludes to the fact that former APA President Joseph Matarazzo was a "governing member" of James Mitchell’s company, Mitchell-Jessen and Associates. Even more, Dr. Matarazzo was reported by New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer to be "on the CIA’s professional-standards board at the exact time when psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen were developing an interrogation program for the CIA, based on the US military’s SERE training program."

When APA was confronted in August 2007 with the evidence surrounding the links between Dr. Matarazzo and Mitchell-Jessen, Rhea Farberman, APA’s director of public affairs, released a statement that said Dr. Matarazzo had "no active role in APA governance [since he was APA president 18 years previously] but has been actively involved in the American Psychological Foundation (APF), the charitable giving arm of APA. Dr. Matarazzo currently holds no governance positions in either APA or APF." Farberman also stated that APA member Matarazzo’s "professional activities are outside and independent of any role he has played within APA and APF… We have no direct knowledge about the business dealing of Mitchell’s and Jessen’s company; however, APA’s position is clear — torture or other forms of cruel or inhuman treatment are always unethical."

Despite ample reporting on the activities of Mitchell and his associates at the time, APA had no problem disregarding even the associations of one of its own active members, while once again repeating its mantra that it was on the record as being against torture. At the time, few took APA to task for its hypocrisy.

The Fate of the Leso Complaint

In a final twist of irony regarding the APA’s letter on Mitchell, a complaint against registered APA member Major John Leso, filed by the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) last month, was dismissed, as announced in a July 28 letter from the Director of the New York Office of Professional Discipline, Louis J. Catone, to Kathy Roberts of CJA. CJA is expected to appeal that decision.

APA has not chimed in on the Leso case, despite the fact Leso is an APA member. He was also a prime figure in the propagation of the highly experimental interrogation "Battle Lab" at Guantanamo. From the CJA complaint:

Dr. Leso led the first Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT) at the United States Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (Guantánamo or GTMO) from June 2002 to January 2003. While at Guantánamo, Dr. Leso co-authored an interrogation policy memorandum that incorporated illegal techniques adapted from methods used by the Chinese and North Korean governments against U.S. prisoners of war. He recommended a series of increasingly psychologically and physically abusive interrogation techniques to be applied against detainees held by the United States. Many of the techniques and conditions that Dr. Leso helped put in place were applied to suspected al-Qaeda member Mohammed al Qahtani under Dr. Leso’s direct supervision, as well as to other men and boys held at Guantánamo.

Despite the self-evident participation as a "behavioral consultant" psychologist at the torture interrogations of al Qahtani — an interrogation labeled torture by no less than Judge Susan Crawford, the then-Convening Authority at Guantanamo — Catone, a former Democratic Party District Attorney in upstate New York, uses twisted logic to maintain that "Leso’s conduct did not constitute the practice of psychology," which he only defines as helping people.

I find no basis for investigating your complaint because it does not appear that any of the conduct complained of constitutes the practice of psychology as understood in the State of New York…. If Dr. Leso’s conduct did not constitute the practice of psychology, then he cannot be guilty of practicing the profession of psychology with gross negligence, with gross incompetence, etc., and he cannot be guilty of engaging in conduct "in the practice of the profession" evidencing moral unfitness to practice.

Redolent of the pettifogging apologia that DoJ maven David Margolis applied in clearing attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee from criminal misconduct in the writing of the August 2002 torture memos, Catone would have us believe that unless the action of a psychologist fit the category of the profession’s activities in New York legal code, then it cannot be misconduct. By this logic, no crime or unethical behavior could be misconduct, since misconduct is not part of the legally defined professional activities. This will be welcome news to psychologists who have been charged with sleeping with their clients, since having sex with patients is patently not part of a psychologist’s legally defined practice!

APA has never weighed in on the Leso complaint, and it is silent now in the wake of this immoral action by the New York authorities. The APA remains committed to its program of promoting "national security psychology". Their letter to the Texas Board on the Mitchell complaint may represent some second thoughts among some members of the APA hierarchy about their general position regarding enthusiastic support for the military and intelligence agencies, and their program of being major players in the expansion of national security and military activities in the wake of 9/11. But I wouldn’t count on it. Instead, it more likely represents a cynical ploy by APA to cover itself in case there is a possible indictment of James Mitchell coming out of the John Durham DoJ investigation, which many reports have indicated is wrapping up its work.

Correction: The letter to APA President Carol Goodheart and the press release for same was originally reported in this story as originating from Psychologists for an Ethical APA. The actual authors, as corrected, are Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. I regret any confusion from this error.