Last December, I wrote a post about James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two psychologists who worked as interrogation advisers for the CIA. Mitchell and Jessen, both former members of the military, helped the government agency “implement its brutal interrogation program targeting detainees in the war on terror…” According to the Senate torture report, the psychologists were generously remunerated for services rendered. They were paid $81 million.
I followed up that post with another titled “Do No Harm”: Dr. Steven Miles on the Subject of Doctors and Torture in which I included an excerpt from Julie Beck’s interview with Dr. Miles, which was published in The Atlantic on December 12th. Here is part of that excerpt:
Julie Beck: What role did doctors play in this CIA-mandated torture, and how integral was it?
Steven Miles: What’s new here is the CIA side. The role of doctors in torture during the War on Terror has been pretty well excavated on the Defense Department side, but the CIA [has some exemptions] from Freedom of Information Act requests, so that’s remained hidden. Essentially the doctors and psychologists were built in to the entire torture system. They weren’t simply bystanders who were called in to respond when the system went off the rails. Some doctors apparently protested this. But they kept their protests inside [the CIA], they never went outside, which they should have done when they saw these types of abuses.
In general, doctors in torture have a couple roles. Number one, they design methods of torture that do not leave scars. For example, the so-called “rectal feeding” which is actually a medieval technique in which the intestines are inflated with a viscous material to cause intestinal pain. The docs are also involved in making sure that the prisoners who weren’t supposed to die didn’t die. The third thing doctors do is they falsify medical records and death certificates to conceal the injuries of torture. [Ed.: Miles has written on this in the context of Abu Ghraib.]
Today, Spencer Ackerman published an article in The Guardian titled US torture doctors could face charges after report alleges post-9/11 ‘collusion’. Ackerman said that The Guardian had learned that the American Psychological Association (APA), the largest association of psychologists in the United States, “is on the brink of a crisis…after an independent review revealed that medical professionals lied and covered up their extensive involvement in post-9/11 torture.” Ackerman added the “revelation, puncturing years of denials, has already led to at least one leadership firing and creates the potential for loss of licenses and even prosecutions.”
For more than a decade, the American Psychological Association (APA) has maintained that a strict code of ethics prohibits its more than 130,000 members to aid in the torture of detainees while simultaneously permitting involvement in military and intelligence interrogations. The group has rejected media reporting on psychologists’ complicity in torture; suppressed internal dissent from anti-torture doctors; cleared members of wrongdoing; and portrayed itself as a consistent ally against abuse.
According to Ackerman, “a voluminous independent review conducted by a former assistant US attorney, David Hoffman, undermines the APA’s denials in full – and vindicates the dissenters.” He added, “Sources with knowledge of the report and its consequences, who requested anonymity to discuss the findings before public release, expected a wave of firings and resignations across the leadership of an organization that Hoffman finds used its extensive institutional links to the CIA and US military to facilitate abusive interrogations.”
Ackerman added that a number of officials are likely to be sacked. A past president of the APA has confirmed to The Guardian that Stephen Behnke is already out. Behnke was “the APA’s ethics chief and a leading figure in recasting its ethics guidelines in a manner conducive to interrogations that, from the start, relied heavily on psychologists to design and implement techniques like waterboarding.”
Click here to read Spencer Ackerman’s article US torture doctors could face charges after report alleges post-9/11 ‘collusion’ (The Guardian)