Monday, July 11, 2005

Jane Mayer's "The Experiment" (The New Yorker)

So The New Yorker arrives today the one with Jane Mayer's "The Experiment." Where's the link for it, you may ask? There is none because it's not available online. (If it becomes available online, we'll note it in another entry.)

This is an eleven page article and it's worth reading. Check your libraries because chances are the next edition of The New Yorker is already on magazine racks.

I'll try to summarize the article but that's not an easy task.

Mayer's taken a trip to Guantanamo Bay. It was an orchestrated trip by the military. At one point, a prisoner starts speaking to her of how he's been treated and her military guide hustles her out of the area quickly and to the charges made by the prisoner offers a "joke" about how the prisoner can speak English pretty well.

Time and again, Mayer's told there's no problem, that it's isolated individuals when there are problems. But via other sources, she's able to make an argument that the incidents are not only not isolated, they're the result of research and planning.

SERE comes into the story. SERE is a military unit that pops up in the aftermath of WWII. It was supposed to gather information that would help American troops to withstand pressure (and torture) if they were captured. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. Originally created for the Air Force, post Vietnam, it grows to include the Navy and the Army.

At Guantamano, there are "bisquits." Bisquits is "military jargon" for Behavioral Science Consultation Teams. These behavioral scientists appear to be utilizing techniques developed to help American troops resist during capture in an inverse manner -- using techniques to break the imprisoned at Guantamano down.

This raises ethical issues (which Mayer deals with, this is a summary of her article). Apparently prisoners medical files (containing information gathered by doctors) are raided to help with brainstorming ideas. Is someone afraid of the dark? Well, let's use that.

While the bisquists (Behavioral Science Consultation Teams) have apparent free access to medical files, that's not the case for everyone. Dr. John S. Edmondson ("a Navy captain who oversees the facility's medical command") claims that, "I believe we've complied with the requests [for medical records] that have reached me." Rob Kirsh ("who represents six Guantanamo detaineeds") has a paper trail that proves otherwise. Even with waivers from his clients, his requests for their medical records has been denied in multiple letters "from the Justice Department." Regarding this denial, Mayer quotes Arthur Caplan ("a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania") who notes, "Prisoners, even terrorists, have the right to their medical records, according to federal laws, common laws, the American Medical Association, and court trials."

With various documents and various sources (including a graduate of SERE who had posted at Juan Cole's Informed Comment) "The Experiment" gathers together the "isolated incidents" and demonstrates a pattern (in my reading of the article).

Techniques and actions used on American soldiers to keep them from "cracking" (my term, not Mayer's) are apparently now being used to "crack" (see previous parenthetical) prisoners.
The SERE program has always been shrouded in the secrecy of national security. Which is not unlike the attempts to find out what the Bully Boy did or did not authorize (or Donald Rumsfeld for that matter).

Would someone crack to stop a woman from being raped? Well, hey, let's try that. That appears to be the motivation and why one prisoner was told if he talked the (fake) rape would stop. There's also the case of a man and a woman having sex in a computer room next to an interrogation room with the door open.

How does that get approved? "Give it up for your country?" I'm not quite sure and I'm trying very hard not to interject my own thoughts here and provide a summary of the article so I'll move on.

There have been people pointing out that the actions were unethical or illegal or immoral (or two or all three). One person who speaks to Mayer, former FBI official who was at Guantanamo, states that he and other FBI agents did not want to participate in these actions:

Some of these techniques, I don't want to see, or be part of. I took an oath to the Constitution to uphold the laws against enemies both inside the U.S. and out. The D.O.D. [Department of Defense] guy got really upset. He said he took the oath, too. I told him that we must have different interpretations.

Concerns are raised regarding "force drift." That's when "interrogators encountering resistance begin to lose the ability to restrain themselves." If you'll think of it in terms of parenting, you'll relate that to the "power struggle." There's also a "seductive" component of these techniques, as an attorney for several prisoners -- Marc Falkoff -- notes. Falkoff asserts that "a mass suicide attempt at Guantanamo, in August 2003, in which two dozens or so detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves, was provoked by Koran mistreatment . . ."

That's a SERE technique. Only on American soil, while "testing" American soldiers, they used a Bible. They might tear pages out of it or kick it around or some other method. But it was developed here with the Bible. (Again, I'm holding my tongue and just attempting to summarize.)

The question is posed (and I'd argue throughout the article) by at least one person in the article of what are we becoming? What does it say about us when we "do things that our enemies do, like using torture?"

We'll close out this summary by noting that doctors have participated as "bisquits" (though not all "bisquits" are doctors -- some are p.h.d.s) with the comments of Jonathan Moreno (bioethicist):

Guantanamo is going to haunt us for a long time. The Hippocratic oath is the oldest ethical code we have. We might abandon our morality about other professions. But the medical profession is sort of the last gasp. If we give that up, we've given up our core values.

Read the article (a great reason to visit your library).

For those wanting online resources, I'll suggest the following:

*"Q. & A.: In Gitmo" an interview (conducted by Amy Davidson) with Jane Mayer about "The Experiment." (The New Yorker -- noted here last Weds.)

*"The Gitmo Experiment: How Methods Developed by the U.S. Military For Withstanding Torture are Being Used Against Detainees at Guantanamo Bay" Part I of Amy Goodman's interview with Jane Mayer regarding the article "The Experiment." (Democracy Now! -- noted here Weds.)

*"Methods Developed by U.S. Military for Withstanding Torture Being Used Against Detainees at Guantanamo Bay" Part II of Amy Goodman's interview with Jane Mayer regarding the article "The Expermient." (Democracy Now! -- noted here today.)

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