By Benjamin Greenberg (Wednesday, Apr 22, 2009)
Last night, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) released a report, developed over two years, detailing the origins and implementation of the Bush Administration’s torture program (PDF, 15 MB). The SASC report is the latest and most comprehensive account of the Bush Administration’s regime of torture and the central role health professionals played. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Chair of SASC, is calling for the Department of Justice to review the report and pursue any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, a move that PHR supports.
Steven Reisner, PhD, Advisor on Psychological Ethics at PHR, responded, saying:
Long before Justice Department lawyers were tasked to justify torture, US psychologists were busy actually perpetrating it. These individuals must not only face prosecution for breaking the law, they must lose their licenses for shaming their profession’s ethics.
Writing about the contents of the report released by SASC, which he chairs, Senator Levin said:
In my judgment, the report represents a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse – such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan – to low ranking soldiers. Claims, such as that made by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a “few bad apples,” were simply false.
The truth is that, early on, it was senior civilian leaders who set the tone. On September 16, 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that the United States turn to the “dark side” in our response to 9/11. Not long after that, after White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales called parts of the Geneva Conventions “quaint,” President Bush determined that provisions of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to certain detainees. Other senior officials followed the President and Vice President’s lead, authorizing policies that included harsh and abusive interrogation techniques.
The record established by the Committee’s investigation shows that senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques. Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. As the Committee report concluded, authorizations of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials resulted in abuse and conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody.
The SASC report confirms what PHR has been documenting since, Break Them Down, our first report on US torture in 2005, and subsequently in Leave No Marks (2007) and Broken Laws, Broken Lives (2008): psychologists have justified, designed and implemented torture for the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense. Senator Levin explained:
The Committee’s investigation uncovered new details about the influence of SERE techniques on military interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO). According to newly released testimony from a military behavioral scientist who worked with interrogators at GTMO, “By early October  there was increasing pressure to get ‘tougher’ with detainee interrogations” at GTMO. (p. 50). As a result, on October 2, 2002, two weeks after attending interrogation training led by SERE instructors from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the DoD agency that oversees SERE training, the behavioral scientist and a colleague drafted a memo proposing the use of aggressive interrogation techniques at GTMO. The behavioral scientist said he was told by GTMO’s intelligence chief that the interrogation memo needed to contain coercive techniques or it “wasn’t going to go very far.” (p. 50). Declassified excerpts from that memo indicate that it included stress positions, food deprivation, forced grooming, hooding, removal of clothing, exposure to cold weather or water, and scenarios designed to convince a detainee that “he might experience a painful or fatal outcome.” On October 11, 2002, Major General Michael Dunlavey, the Commander of JTF-170 at GTMO requested authority to use aggressive techniques. MG Dunlavey’s request was based on the memo produced by the behavioral scientists.
MG Dunlavey’s request eventually made its way to Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel Jim Haynes’ desk. Notwithstanding serious legal concerns raised by the military service lawyers, Haynes recommended that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approve 15 of the interrogation techniques requested by GTMO. On December 2, 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld approved Haynes’ recommendation, authorizing such techniques as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli.
The Committee’s investigation revealed that, following Secretary Rumsfeld’s authorization, senior staff at GTMO drafted a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the use of SERE techniques, including stress positions, forcibly stripping detainees, slapping, and “walling” them. That SOP stated that “The premise behind this is that the interrogation tactics used at U.S. military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations.” Weeks later, in January 2003, trainers from the Navy SERE school travelled to GTMO and provided training to interrogators on the use of SERE techniques on detainees. (pp. 98-104).
Nathaniel Raymond, Director of PHR’s Campaign Against Torture, said:
The Senate Armed Services Committee confirms what we have long known—health professionals were the agents that spread the virus of torture. Now is the time for those who violated our laws and our values to be held to account.
PHR is renewing its call to Congress and the White House to immediately create a non-partisan commission to investigate the Bush Administration’s use of torture, with a specific focus on the role that psychologists and medical professionals played in its design, justification, supervision, and use.
John Bradshaw, JD, PHR’s Washington Director, said:
A non-partisan commission is required if the American people are to know the truth about our nation’s descent into torture. Congress must move quickly and show the world that we are serious about restoring our reputation as a nation that defends human rights and the rule of law.
Please join us in calling for a non-partisan investigation of the Bush Administration’s torture program and the role that psychologists and medical professionals played in it. If you’ve already signed the petition, ask 6 of your friends to sign, too.