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APA Finally Bars Torture
Methods of interrogation approved by Bush administration not only immoral but also counterproductive
Ludwig De Braeckeleer (ludwig)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2007-08-22 07:06 (KST)   
On Sunday, the American Psychological Association (APA) ruled that its members could no longer be associated with the torture of individuals listed by the U.S. government as "enemy combatants," under any circumstances.

The move follows similar decisions by the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association.

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The APA affirmed that there are no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether induced by a state of war or threat of war, that may be invoked as a justification for torture.

The APA also unambiguously condemned any cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, under any and all conditions, including detention and interrogations of both lawful and unlawful enemy combatants as defined by the U.S. Military Commissions Act of 2006.

The APA unequivocally prohibited its members from planning, designing or assisting interrogations where such techniques would be used.

Forbidden methods of interrogation include, but are not limited to, mock execution, waterboarding, sexual humiliation, rape, cultural or religious humiliation, exploitation of phobias or psychopathology, induced hypothermia and the use of psychotropic drugs.

Western media have reported that most of these techniques have been used by the U.S. military and the CIA at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib as well as at various secret CIA prisons located around the globe.

When used for the purposes of eliciting information in an interrogation process, the APA also forbad the following methods: hooding, forced nakedness, stress positions, the use of dogs, physical assault, exposure to extreme heat or cold, threats of harm or death, isolation, sensory deprivation and over-stimulation, sleep deprivation and the threatened use of any of the above techniques to members of one's family.

The APA called on the Department of Defense (DOD) and the CIA to prohibit the use of these methods in all interrogations.

The APA reminded its members of their moral obligations as described in the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, which, for instance, require them to disobey laws, regulations or orders when they conflict with ethics and to denounce such activities as well as any psychologist, APA member or non-member, who has engaged in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

If such allegations are confirmed, the APA will strip the individual of his membership. Such a sanction is no mere slap on the wrist. Many state licensing boards require psychologists to be members of the APA in order to practice.

The APA Ethics Committee announced the forthcoming publication of guidelines fully consistent with the International Human Rights instruments such as "Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions" and "The United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment."

APA also calls upon United States legal systems to reject any testimony obtained under conditions of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.

Many APA members have argued that these methods of interrogation are not only immoral but also counterproductive to obtaining reliable intelligence.

"Successful interrogations are almost always about building a relationship with a prisoner, a relationship that is impossible to build when the prisoner is being subjected to stress, humiliation or abuse," said Stephen Behnke, director of the APA's Ethics Office.

Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi is an Iraqi Kurd believed to have been one of Osama bin Laden's closest advisers. He has been detained by the CIA since the fall of 2006. The agency has acknowledged that he provided valuable intelligence. Yet, at the time, CIA interrogators were restricted to the methods approved for U.S. Military, which fully comply with International Humanitarian Law.

On the other hand, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libbi finally broke down after being subjected to waterboarding. He then confessed to his interrogators that al-Qaida members had access and were trained to use biochemical weapons. The Bush administration used Libbi's confession as a major argument to promote their war on terror.

The CIA eventually learned that Libbi had simply fabricated this information to put an end to his suffering. They also established that Libbi never intended to send his interrogators down a false path. Rather, he merely guessed that they would be pleased with such fabrication.

"This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear," a CIA source said.

"It is bad interrogation. I mean you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture is bad enough," said former CIA officer Bob Baer.

On July 20, 2007, President Bush signed an executive order allowing the CIA to resume harsh interrogation methods. On the same day, Gen. Michael Hayden, the CIA director, praised the executive order and wrote to CIA employees: "We can focus on our vital work confident that our mission and authorities are clearly defined."

The methods that have been approved are not known to the public. A list of them was written by the CIA and approved by the Justice Department in a legal opinion that states that these techniques of interrogation meet the standards of the Geneva Conventions.

The U.S. administration argued that the methods must remain classified in order to secure their efficacy. Revealing these methods "will only enable al-Qaida to train against those [techniques] they know are on or off," said a U.S. official.

The executive order explicitly prohibits certain techniques such as sexual humiliation, exposure to extreme temperatures, and the denigration of religious symbols. Media reports of the methods by the U.S. military in Iraq have caused an international outcry.

Sleep deprivation and the use of so-called stress positions have not been banned by the executive order even though they are off-limits for the U.S. military and illegal under international law.

Moreover, the most controversial of the methods, known as waterboarding is not addressed by the document. Also in violation of international law, the CIA does not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit their detainees.

"The White House is basically saying: trust us. Everything in that other document we're not showing you is legal," said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

"But the people in charge of interpreting this document don't have a particularly good track record of reasonable legal analysis," he adds.

"This is an administration that won't even publicly denounce waterboarding," said John Sifton, a lawyer at Human Rights Watch. "It's hard to believe that they will be interpreting these standards in a way that is true to the spirit of the Military Commissions Act."

According to CIA sources, waterboarding is the name of an interrogation method during which the prisoner is bound to an inclined board, with his feet raised slightly higher than his head.

"Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt," the sources have explained.

No CIA officer having subjected himself to this method of interrogation could endure the pain for more than 14 seconds. They have acknowledged that Khalid Sheik Mohammed "won their admiration" as he lasted about two-and a-half minutes before begging his interrogators to halt and offering to confess.

Asked what might constitute exposure to extreme temperature, an administration official answered, "We're not talking about forcibly induced hypothermia." U.S. officials have also stated that these enhanced techniques of interrogations are "authorized for use by only a handful of trained CIA officers."

However, two CIA sources have told ABC News that an untrained junior CIA operative caused the death of a detainee in a secret Afghan prison known as "the salt pit." After dousing the prisoner with cold water, the junior officer left him to stand naked throughout a winter night. In the morning, he was dead. The cause of his death was said to be hypothermia.

According to well-informed sources, other detainees are said to have died during interrogations conducted by DOD and CIA contractors around the world. These sources have alleged that when the CIA wishes someone to speak, it flies him to Jordan. When the agency doesn't want to hear from someone ever again, it flies him to Egypt.
Ludwig De Braeckeleer has a Ph.D. in nuclear sciences. He teaches physics and international humanitarian law. He blogs on The GaiaPost.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ludwig De Braeckeleer

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