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

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.)

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Open Letter: The Solitary Confinement of PFC Bradley Manning

Psychologists for Social Responsibility is deeply concerned about the pretrial detention conditions of alleged Wikileaks source PFC Bradley Manning, including solitary confinement for over five months, a forced lack of exercise, and possible sleep deprivation. It has been reported by his attorney and a visitor that Manning’s mental health is suffering greatly from his treatment.

As a response, PsySR has issued the Open Letter below to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates expressing our concerns about this misuse of solitary confinement and alerting him to the psychological literature on its harmful effects. It has been sent to the Secretary and PsySR is now releasing it publicly, The text of the letter and a PDF version are also available on PsySR’s website at www.psysr.org/gates-manning-letter.

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Seeking Answers from Social and Personality Psychologists: 10 Research Questions in the Torture/Interrogation Debate

Bradley Olson

As someone trained in personality and social psychology—and now also working as a community psychologist—it’s clear to me that social and personality theory and research make essential contributions to understanding social justice issues.

I’ve long been an activist on the American Psychological Association (APA) torture issue and a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR). This led to an invitation to participate in a session chaired by Chris Crandall at the 2009 Society for Experimental Social Psychology conference in Portland, Maine. The session involved presentations of several excellent studies related to U.S. torture and interrogation. My role was to act as a discussant and to suggest what other areas, as an activist, I thought should be studied empirically.

For several decades, the horrors of WWII and the racism that led to the civil rights movement inspired the work of U.S. social and personality psychologists. As several participants mentioned at the session in Portland, the Global War on Terror (GWOT) and Guantanamo can have similar influences on the discipline in the years ahead. I agree. From my perspective as an activist, here are 10 questions I would love social and personality researchers to help answer:

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The CIA’s Torture Research Program

Stephen Soldz

In the aftermath of World War II the Nuremberg Code and other standards established that all research on people should be based upon two fundamental principles: voluntary informed consent and minimization of harm. “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential,” begins that Code. The principles of the Nuremberg Code were widely incorporated, including in the United States, into professional ethical rules and laws governing human research. New evidence suggests that, not only did the CIA torture the detainees in their custody, but they also conducted illegal and unethical research on them.

Experiments in Torture

A new report of which I am a coauthor, Experiments in Torture: Evidence of Human Subject Research and Experimentation in the “Enhanced” Interrogation Program, just released by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) provides the first strong evidence that the CIA was indeed engaged in research on detainees in its custody. The report, the result of six months of detailed work, analyzes now-public documents, including the “torture memos” from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and the CIA’s Inspector General Report and the accompanying CIA Office of Medical Services (OMS) guidelines for monitoring of detainees.

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Shocking New Report: The CIA Performed Human Experiments on Prisoners Under Bush

Stephen Soldz

Over the last year there have been an increasing number of accounts suggesting that, along with the CIA’s "enhanced interrogation" torture program, there was a related program experimenting with and researching the application of the torture.

For example, in the seven paragraphs released by a British court summarizing observations by British counterintelligence agents of the treatment of Binyan Mohamed by the CIA, the first two of these paragraphs stated:

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

    BM had been intentionally subjected to continuous sleep deprivation. The effects of the sleep deprivation were carefully observed. [emphasis added]

The suggestion was that a new strategy was being tested and the results carefully examined. Several detainees have provided similar accounts, expressing their belief that their interrogations were being carefully studied, apparently so that the techniques could be modified based on the results. Such research would violate established laws and ethical rules governing research.

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Obama’s Afghan Torture Center and the American Psychological Association

Stephen Soldz

A recent pair of articles by Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic has shed new light upon activities in the secret so-called "black jail" on the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Among other aspects, these new revelations suggest that psychologists may be playing a major role inside the facility, raising questions about the reasons for American Psychological Association (APA) lobbying activities in support of the agency that Ambinder reports is running the detention center.

In recent months the Washington Post, New York Times, and BBC reported on a secret prison on the fringes of the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Referred to by former prisoners as the "black jail," this institution is reportedly a site where prisoner abuse is regular and systematic. The BBC reported that all nine former prisoners they interviewed

told consistent stories of being held in isolation in cold cells where a light is on all day and night.

The men said they had been deprived of sleep by US military personnel there.

Thus, we can assume that psychological torture techniques of isolation, sleep deprivation, and hypothermia are routine aspects of treatment inside the facility.

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The Seven Paragraphs: Released Binyan Mohamed Abuse Evidence Poses Problems for Both British and U.S. Governments

Stephen Soldz

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

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

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

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

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Afghanistan: Women Dying and Torture Run Amuck

Jeffrey Kaye

Two reports coming out of Afghanistan illustrate the depth of hypocrisy and subterfuge characterizing the US/NATO intervention in that country. One could cite a myriad of such examples, so immoral and wrong is the US war there.

In the first report, a 2009 human rights assessment prepared by Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department, obtained by The Canadian Press and reported at CBC News, revealed a skyrocketing suicide rate among Afghan women:

"Self-immolation is being used by increasing numbers of Afghan women to escape their dire circumstances and women constitute the majority of Afghan suicides," said the report, completed in November 2009….

The director of a burn unit at a hospital in the relatively peaceful province of Herat reported that in 2008 more than 80 women attempted suicide by setting themselves on fire, many of them in the early 20s.

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Psychologists in An Age of Torture: An Open Letter to Dr. Carol Goodheart

Trudy Bond

“We’ve seen a lot of negative e-mail discourse in recent years as APA has made decisions and released reports that have triggered controversy among our members . . . We also saw heated disputes over APA’s stance on the role of psychologists in interrogations . . . The difference is that in the new age of outrage, criticism on these issues quickly escalated to unwarranted heights. In 24/7 instant communications, extreme voices dominate . . .I see four elements converging online to strain the collegiality within APA . . .viral distortion (a small number perpetuate shocking misrepresentations about APA’s actions, policies and procedures). The effect on APA is damaging when members and the public believe the distortions . . . Let’s turn down the temperature on outrage.”

APA in the Age of Outrage
by Dr. Carol D. Goodheart
President, American Psychological Association

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Traumatic Memories, Well-Founded Fears, and Credibility

Judy Eidelson

Each year, more than 40,000 people come to America seeking refuge from persecution. While it is U.S. policy to provide asylum to refugees who have a “well-founded fear” of persecution in their home countries, most of these claims will be denied by the Department of Homeland Security.

The outcome of these cases often hinges on the perceived credibility of the asylum seeker’s testimony. This is perfectly understandable. But as a psychologist working in this area, I am struck by its perverse consequence: trauma survivors are often denied asylum precisely because they show the signs of the traumas they have experienced.

The standards adopted by immigration courts seem oblivious to the large body of research documenting the psychological effects of torture and violence. In particular, we know that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not only an anxiety disorder, but also a disorder of memory.

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