In a hearing Thursday to dismiss charges in the second war crimes trial at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Diane M. Zierhoffer, a licensed psychologist who had ordered the torture of a juvenile detainee, refused to testify under Section 831, Article 31 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Article 31 prohibits compulsory self-incrimination as a right under the Fifth Amendment. And the judge in the case ruled that a Pentagon official cannot participate in the trial by military tribunal of Mohammed Jawad, a detainee captured in Afghanistan and held in extrajudicial detention at Bagram Theater Internment Facility and at Gitmo for the past five and a half years.
The official, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the legal adviser to the tribunals, had previously been barred from the trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver, who was convicted last month of "providing material support" to al Qaeda. In both instances, according to the Associated Press, the general was kept out of the trials because of his political interference. Hartmann was eager, testified former prosecutor Air Force Col. Morris Davis, to keep Jawad's case at the top of the queue because it would be a grabber for Americans. The Pakistani-born Jawad, who was 16 or 17 at the time of his capture, allegedly tossed a grenade at a U.S. convoy in December 2002.
The judge did not grant the motion to throw out the charges against Jawad. The motion was based on claims that Jawad had been tortured physically at Bagram, where his nose may have been broken, and by means of threats, linguistic and physical isolation, as well as sleep deprivation at Gitmo. Twice, Jawad was kept in extreme isolation for 30 days. Sleep deprivation and prolonged periods of isolation are widely recognized as torture by non-governmental organizations, human rights groups, governments, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.S. State Department, and federal courts as well as state courts.
Although the Bush administration, in the person of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had expressly said the Geneva Conventions did not apply in the case of the Gitmo detainees, a perspective later overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court, the approved torture techniques were to be used only when there was a good reason to believe that the detainee possessed "critical intelligence," clearly not the case for the young Jawad, who was not being held on terrorism charges. Rather, the accusation against him then, as now, was that, in effect, if he committed the act he was charged with, he had behaved like any soldier in a war zone. (Jawad has always denied throwing any grenades.)
The torture practices used against Jawad can cause physical deterioration, panic, rage, loss of appetite, lethargy, paranoia, hallucinations, self-mutilation, cognitive dysfunction, disorientation and mental breakdowns, any of which, alone or in combination, can spur the detainee to give interrogators more information than he might otherwise surrender. The techniques had a particularly severe effect on Jawad, who attempted suicide on Christmas Day, 2003.
It is especially egregious that these practices were carried out on a juvenile. But worst of all, according to a source familiar with the case who spoke with Daily Kos but asked not to be identified, the torture was ordered by Lieut. Colonel Diane M. Zierhoffer, a PhD psychologist operating as part of Gitmo's Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT). BSCTs are not mental health providers. Their primary mission is to support military interrogations. Their role has been widely criticized by prominent psychologists and psychoanalysts such as Stephen Soldz and Steven Reisner.
According to an unclassified but highly censored document that the anonymous source has read, when an interrogator came to Zierhoffer and said he thought the techniques being applied to Jawad should be temporarily halted because they were causing him to dissociate, to crack up without providing good information, she recommended that the torture continue. This was a clear violation of the Convention Against Torture, and a clear violation of Principle A of the American Psychological Association, the first sentence of which reads: Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm. At the time, Zierhoffer was still a member of the APA, which she joined in 1997. Her membership lapsed in 2005.
According to a story by Adam Zagorin and Michael Duffy in the June 12, 2005, issue of Time magazine, Inside the Interrogation of Prisoner 63, Army Major John Leso is named in the logs as the psychologist supervising Mohammed al-Qatani’s interrogation, who many believed to be the "20th hijacker." According to the interrogation logs, Qatani (Prisoner 63) almost died during his questioning. Charges of war crimes and terrorist acts against him were dismissed May 13 but he remains at Gitmo.
As recently as 2007, Major Leso was stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama, which includes the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school (SERE) for Army Aviation, whose purpose is to train soldiers to resist torture. Government sources and reports show that SERE training was reverse-engineered as a means to break enemy soldiers. Leso is still a member of APA and could be disciplined by the organization if it so chose. Zierhoffer, having left the organization in 2005, cannot.
The significance of that date is that it was the year of the first disclosures, in The New York Times, about Red Cross reports of psychological torture involving psychologists. The APA consequently formed a task force called PENS (President’s Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security). Its report, subsequently discredited by ethicists inside and outside psychology as a whitewash, allowed psychologists to participate in interrogations if they were "legal," which was defined as being in compliance with Bush administration interpretations of what constitutes legal. Did Zierhoffer resign her membership because of the increased scrutiny?
As reported here Tuesday in Torture Generates Turmoil at the APA, the organization has faced growing concern about its stance on torture, and particularly its unwillingness to say that psychologists should not participate in BSCTs when violation of international law is occurring or likely to occur.
Today, Leonard S. Rubenstein, president of Physicians for Human Rights, which operates the Campaign Against Torture, sent a letter to the president and vice president of the APA:
The emerging information is alarming because it shows not only the involvement of individual psychologists in abusive CIA and military interrogations, but an institutionalized program of psychological torture supervised by teams of CIA psychologists and the Pentagon’s Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT), staffed predominantly by psychologists.
To date, the APA has been muted about these revelations. It has twice passed resolutions reaffirming its opposition to torture and ill treatment but the Association has never explicitly condemned the operations and policies authorizing such abuses, nor concluded its ethics investigations of psychologists who have engaged in such conduct. ...
It is past time for the APA to explicitly and categorically reject the use of psychologists and psychology to perpetrate a widespread, command-ordered program of torture and abuse. General statements opposing torture fail to fully address the reality of what psychologists have done.
The letter asks APA to take six steps: acknowledge that psychologists were "deeply and structurally involved" in detainee torture and degrading treatment; condemn such behavior as unethical; demand that Congress set up an independent commission to investigate the role of military and intelligence psychologists in torture; appoint a blue-ribbon APA panel to review the role of psychologists in torture; initiate disciplinary measures against any APA member alleged to have participated in torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment; reform APA's ethical rules.
Said PHR CEO A. Frank Donaghue:
"The APA must hold psychologists who were involved in the abuse and torture of detainees in U.S. custody accountable. The APA should implement critical reforms to its ethics code. On the top the list is ensuring that psychologists be required to adhere to the highest ethical standards, rather than be allowed to descend to the lowest interpretations of the law."
Each new revelation that emerges in the cases of the detainees that the Bush administration tried to turn into non-persons rekindles the rage of anyone who believes in civilized behavior and the rule of law. But none is more chilling than the knowledge that medical professionals and psychologists willingly participated in violating the most basic human rights, and that, in the latter case, their leading professional organization has yet to deliver clear and firm objections against that behavior.