March 30, 2014
A Tortured Twist on Ethics

by Yosef Brody

George Orwell wisely observed that our understanding of the past, and the meaning associated with it, directly influences the future. And as the unprecedented public feud between the CIA and Congress makes clear, there are still significant aspects of our recent history of state-sponsored torture that need examination before we put this national disgrace behind us.

Important questions remain unresolved about the U.S. torture program in the aftermath of 9/11, questions that even the four-year, $40 million Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture is unlikely to answer, if it is ever released.

For example, what will be done about doctors who helped create U.S. torture programs and participated in their implementation? And is there any evidence that cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices continue under official policy, even to this day? 

The question of whether American health professionals previously involved in military torture programs should be allowed to quietly and freely continue their careers came to a head recently when it was revealed that the American Psychological Association (APA) refused to pursue ethics charges against psychologist John Leso. According to official and authoritative documents, Dr. Leso developed and helped to carry out “enhanced interrogation” techniques at Guantánamo Bay in 2002. Importantly, the APA has not disputed Leso’s role in the interrogation of detainee Mohammed Al-Qahtani, an interrogation that included being hooded, leashed, and treated like a dog; sleep deprivation; sexual humiliation; prolonged exposure to cold; forced nudity; and sustained isolation. In a subsequent investigation, Susan Crawford, a judge appointed under President George W. Bush, characterized this treatment of Al-Qahtani as “life-threatening” and meeting the legal definition of “torture.”

Over almost seven years, the APA—whose leadership has nurtured strong connections with the military and intelligence establishment—never brought the case to its full Ethics Committee for review and resolution. In defending this decision a few weeks ago, the APA Board released a statement explaining that a handful of top people with classified military access had determined that there was nothing unethical about Dr. Leso’s actions and that the case should be immediately closed.

What exactly is the interest of the leaders of the world’s largest professional association of psychologists in blocking investigation into torture? And should psychologists who participated in torture have this dark chapter of their careers wiped clean without censure?

Ethical imperatives to “do no harm” and sanctions for psychologists who break the rules—from sleeping with patients to insurance fraud to not informing research subjects of their rights—exist not only to protect the public but also to provide clear guidance to professionals faced with moral dilemmas. Yet when considering ethical complaints, the APA apparently takes involvement in torture less seriously than these other transgressions.

If such ethical parameters are effectively nullified, what kind of future might we expect?

Here’s an equally important question: Has U.S. torture really ended? While the Obama Administration made an early display of banning some of the worst techniques that had been given the official seal of approval under Bush and Cheney, such as waterboarding, the U.S. military continues to engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices. As the lawsuit brought this month by Imad Hassan in federal court reminds us, the force-feeding of Guantánamo hunger strikers there is continuing despite a military blackout since December on the number of inmates engaged in that protest. Human rights and medical organizations have widely denounced this brutal practice.

Even more under the radar, Appendix M of the current Army Field Manual on interrogations makes a distinction between legitimate methods for POWs covered under the Geneva Conventions and separate, special techniques reserved for “enemy combatants,” that old Bush-era trope. The language in Appendix M twists itself in a knot trying to avoid the appearance of prescribing torture or other abuses, but the hypocrisy is plain. Detainees can be limited to only four hours of sleep per day, forced to undergo sensory deprivation, and placed in prolonged solitary confinement, indefinitely. Long-term isolation is now well-known to cause severe psychiatric suffering, including psychosis and suicidal behavior, in people with no previous problems. Independent human rights groups and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have described such practices as forms of torture and called for strict bans on their use.  

Before we tell ourselves it’s time to put our history of torture behind us, we should take a hard look in the mirror. What does it mean for our society to allow health professionals who have been involved with torture to subsequently practice with impunity? Have we really repaired the damage done by the torture program, or is it ongoing? Do official abuses continue under our noses? Like all civilized societies, we must reckon with past and present truths—if we want to be in control of our future.

An abridged version of this article was published by the Institute for Policy Studies (OtherWords)

March 24, 2014
Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes

Matt Richtel, The New York Times

A dangerous new form of a powerful stimulant is hitting markets nationwide, for sale by the vial, the gallon and even the barrel.

The drug is nicotine, in its potent, liquid form — extracted from tobacco and tinctured with a cocktail of flavorings, colorings and assorted chemicals to feed the fast-growing electronic cigarette industry.

These “e-liquids,” the key ingredients in e-cigarettes, are powerful neurotoxins. Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child.

But, like e-cigarettes, e-liquids are not regulated by federal authorities. They are mixed on factory floors and in the back rooms of shops, and sold legally in stores and online in small bottles that are kept casually around the house for regular refilling of e-cigarettes.

Evidence of the potential dangers is already emerging. Toxicologists warn that e-liquids pose a significant risk to public health, particularly to children, who may be drawn to their bright colors and fragrant flavorings like cherry, chocolate and bubble gum.

March 16, 2014

March 10, 2014
Behind Clash Between C.I.A. and Congress, a Secret Report on Interrogations

Mark Mazzetti, The New York Times.

There’s just one work missing from this important article: “torture.”

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Filed under: torture cia 
March 5, 2014

Are Any Plastics Safe? Industry Tries to Hide Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Bottles, Containers

Democracy Now!:

A new exposé by Mother Jones magazine may shock anyone who drinks out of plastic bottles, gives their children plastic sippy cups, eats out of plastic containers, or stores food with plastic wrap. For years, public campaigns have been waged against plastic containing bisphenol-A (BPA), a controversial plastic additive, due to concerns about adverse human health effects caused by the exposure to synthetic estrogen. But a new investigation by Mother Jones reporter Mariah Blake has revealed that chemicals used to replace BPA may be just as dangerous to your health, if not more. Plastic products being advertised as BPA-free — and sold by companies such as Evenflo, Nalgene and Tupperware — are still releasing synthetic estrogen. The Mother Jones piece also reveals how the plastics industry has used a “Big Tobacco-style campaign” to bury the disturbing scientific evidence about the products you use every day. Blake joins us to discuss her findings.

March 5, 2014
Top Ten US Aid Recipients All Practice Torture

Project Censored:

The top ten recipients slated to receive US foreign assistance in 2014 all practice torture and are responsible for major human rights abuses, according to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other major human rights organizations.

The violators and degree of aid they are expected to receive are: 1. Israel – $3.1bn, 2. Afghanistan – $2.2bn, 3. Egypt – $1.6bn, 4. Pakistan – $1.2bn, 5. Nigeria – $693m, 6. Jordan – $671m, 7. Iraq – $573m, 8. Kenya – $564m, 9. Tanzania – $553m, 10. Uganda -$456m

Each of the listed countries are accused of torturing people in the last year, and at least half are reported to be doing so on a massive scale.

Financial support for such governments could violate existing US law mandating that little or no funding be granted to a country that “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture.”

The United States remains a signatory of the United Nations Convention against Torture, ratified in 1994. That the top ten recipients of US assistance all practice torture calls into serious question the Obama administration’s overall stance on and understanding of fundamental human rights.

Source:

Daniel Wickham, “Top 10 US Aid Recipients All Practice Torture,” Left Foot Forward,January 30, 2014, http://www.leftfootforward.org/2014/01/top-ten-us-aid-recipients-all-practice-torture/.

Student Researcher: Alyssa Tufaro (Florida Atlantic University)

Faculty Evaluator: James F. Tracy (Florida Atlantic University)

March 3, 2014

The Box: Teens in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Jails, Prisons and Juvenile Halls

Published on Mar 1, 2014, via The Center for Investigative Reporting and The I Files:

Every year, thousands of teens are placed in solitary confinement cells in juvenile halls, jails and prisons nationwide. This animation tells the story of Ismael “Izzy” Nazario and the time he spent in solitary confinement in New York City’s Rikers Island jail. This story is based on an investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and was created using real audio from an interview with Nazario. It features music from Mos Def. www.cironline.org

Produced and directed by Michael I Schiller

Illustrations by Anna Vignet

Animation directed by Zachary Medow

Reporters Daffodil Altan and Trey Bundy

February 27, 2014
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Filed under: europe 
February 24, 2014
Russell Maroon Shoatz released from 22 YEARS of solitary confinement

Abolitionist Law Center:

It marks the first time that Shoatz has been in the general prison population in the state of Pennsylvania since 1983, when he was placed in solitary confinement due to his work with the Pennsylvania Association of Lifers to abolish life-without-parole sentences.”

February 9, 2014

German Television does first Edward Snowden Interview (ENGLISH)
NDR does an exclusive interview with Edward Snowden, posted on 27 Jan 2014 to Liveleak.com

January 27, 2014
If You See Something, Say Something

Michael E. Mann, The New York Times:

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — THE overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that human-caused climate change is happening. Yet a fringe minority of our populace clings to an irrational rejection of well-established science. This virulent strain of anti-science infects the halls of Congress, the pages of leading newspapers and what we see on TV, leading to the appearance of a debate where none should exist.

In fact, there is broad agreement among climate scientists not only that climate change is real (a survey and a review of the scientific literature published say about 97 percent agree), but that we must respond to the dangers of a warming planet. If one is looking for real differences among mainstream scientists, they can be found on two fronts: the precise implications of those higher temperatures, and which technologies and policies offer the best solution to reducing, on a global scale, the emission of greenhouse gases.

January 26, 2014
Contrary to Obama's promises, the US military still permits torture

Jeffery Kaye, The Guardian:

The Obama administration has replaced the use of brutal torture techniques with those that emphasize psychological torture

January 24, 2014
US psychology body declines to rebuke member in Guantánamo torture case

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian:

America’s professional association of psychologists has quietly declined to rebuke one of its members, a retired US army reserve officer, for his role in one of the most brutal interrogations known to have to taken place at Guantánamo Bay, the Guardian has learned.

The decision not to pursue any disciplinary measure against John Leso, a former army reserve major, is the latest case in which someone involved in the post-9/11 torture of detainees has faced no legal or even professional consequences.

In a 31 December letter obtained by the Guardian, the American Psychological Association said it had “determined that we cannot proceed with formal charges in this matter. Consequently the complaint against Dr Leso has been closed.”

But the APA did not deny Leso took part in the brutal interrogation of the suspected 20th 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose treatment the Pentagon official overseeing his military commission ultimately called “torture”…

January 21, 2014
Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south

HamdenRice, Daily Kos:

So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war-like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on. But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears.

That is what Dr. King did—not march, not give good speeches. He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.  

Once the beating was over, we were free.

January 19, 2014
Number of US Prison Inmates Serving Life Sentences Hits New Record

Project Censored:

A report released by The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit criminal justice advocacy group, reveals that the number of prisoners serving life sentences in the US state and federal prisons reached a new record of close to 160,000 in 2012. Of these, 49,000 are serving life without possibility of parole, an increase of 22.2 percent since 2008.