Thursday, May 14, 2009

More 'Torturegate' Fallout as Psychologists Come Under Fire Over Interrogations; Military Panels May Return

Physicians' Group Charges Task Force on Interrogations Set Up by Psychologists Was Stacked With Bush Loyalists Who Formulated Opinions of and Policies Toward Terror Suspects That Violated the Geneva Conventions on the Treatment of POWs; Rights Groups Fear Obama May Revive Military Commissions -- ACLU Vows It Will Sue to Stop Them

Guantanamo Bay prisoners undergo sensory deprivation

The controversy over harsh treatment by the U.S. of terror suspects, such as those at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp (above) -- which many critics denounce as torture in violation of U.S. and international law -- flared anew last week with a demand by a physicians' group for an investigation of a task force formed in 2005 to advise the U.S. military on prisoner interrogations. The task force, created by the American Psychological Association, was "stacked with Defense Department and Bush administration officials" and "rushed to conclusions that violated the Geneva Conventions," according to Physicians for Human Rights. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, May 14, 2009)


Inter-Press Service

A leading human rights organization is charging that an American Psychological Association task force formed to advise the U.S. military on prisoner interrogations was "stacked with Defense Department and Bush administration officials" and "rushed to conclusions that violated the Geneva Conventions."

Meanwhile, human rights advocates and legal scholars expressed fears about a pending Obama administration decision on whether to resurrect the military commissions designed by the Bush administration to try the estimated 200-plus remaining Guantanamo detainees after President Obama's 120-day moratorium on the proceedings expires next Wednesday.

That possibility appeared to move a step closer to reality when Guantanamo's chief judge refused to delay a May 27 pretrial hearing for Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi Arabian accused of providing material support for terrorism and participating in a conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes.

Military authorities also allege that he conspired with al-Qaida in a never-realized 2000-2002 plot to bomb vessels at sea in the Straits of Hormuz. He has been a U.S. prisoner since 2002, first at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, and since 2003 at Guantanamo.

Al-Darbi's hearing will be the first commission session since President Obama took office and ordered the freeze on war court proceedings. The Guantanamo judge, Army Col. James Pohl, ruled that defense lawyers had ample notice to prepare for the one-day hearing.

The American Civil Liberties Union vowed to file new lawsuits to block the military commissions, insisting that they are unconstitutional.


Newly-released internal APA documents indicate that the organization's 2005 ethics task force on national security interrogations developed its policy to conform to Pentagon guidelines governing psychologist participation in interrogations, said Physicians for Human Rights.

The PHR is calling for an independent, outside investigation of the APA -- the world's largest professional organization of psychologists -- and a probe by the Defense Department's inspector general into whether any federal employees exerted influence over the APA's Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security.


Nathaniel Raymond, director of the PHR's Campaign Against Torture, told Inter-Press Service that "The APA's ethics task force on national security interrogations produced a report that was rushed, in secret, and being driven to already-reached conclusions – conclusions that violated the Geneva Convention."

"The APA made ethics subservient to law by following guidelines set out by the Pentagon," Raymond continued. "Members of the task force had long-standing ties to the Pentagon, and the task force was stacked with Defense Department and Bush administration officials. There were clear conflicts of interest."

"The APA needs to explain how that happened. And the Pentagon's inspector general needs to look into how this was allowed to happen," Raymond added.


The charges of APA conflicts of interest came after a series of task force emails were posted online by and, a not-for-profit investigative journalism organization. The PHR said the emails indicate that the APA's ethics task force developed its ethics policy to conform to Pentagon guidelines.

"These serious allegations require an independent investigation to determine whether APA leadership engaged in unethical conduct," said Dr. Steven Reisner, the PHR's advisor for psychological ethics. "The American public deserves to know if there were inappropriate contacts or conflicts of interest between APA officials and the Pentagon."

The task force found it to be "consistent with the APA Ethics Code" for psychologists to consult with interrogators in the interests of national security. While noting that psychologists do not participate in torture and have a responsibility to report it, and should be committed to the APA ethics code whenever they "encounter conflicts between ethics and law," the task force decided that "if the conflict cannot be resolved ... psychologists may adhere to the requirements of the law."

The PHR has been a longstanding and outspoken critic of the APA task force's policy governing psychologist involvement in interrogations, calling for a "bright line" prohibition against health professional participation in interrogations. Although the APA membership passed a 2008 referendum banning psychologists from facilities that violate U.S. and international human rights law, the PHR believes that the APA task force policy must be immediately revoked.

Riesner said it was time to "put a psychologist's ethical obligations to human rights principles ahead of following orders."


The recently released Senate Armed Services Committee report detailing detainee abuse by the Defense Department found that psychologists rationalized, designed, supervised, and implemented the Bush administration's interrogation program.

The committee's report, released April 21, found that psychologists warned officials as early as 2002 against using potentially ineffective and dangerous interrogation techniques on detainees. But reported Friday that "the same psychologists helped develop the harsh interrogation policies and practices they warned against."

"The Senate Armed Services Committee report confirms that psychologists were central to the Bush administration's use of torture," said Raymond. "In the context of these revelations, the American public needs to know why a supposedly independent ethics policy was written by some of the very personnel allegedly implicated in detainee abuse."

Stephen Soldz, a board member and spokesman for another advocacy group, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, told Inter-Press Service that the emails "show that several of the military psychologists formulating APA ethics policy were giving themselves get-out-of-jail-free cards."

Soldz charged that their report concluded that it was ethical to follow military policy while the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel memos allowing torture were still in effect." The memoranda prepared by OLC lawyers provided the rationale for the Bush administration's assertion that "enhanced interrogation techniques" were legal.


The PHR has repeatedly called for an end to the "reverse-engineering" on terror suspects of the survival tactics used by captured U.S. personnel, the dismantling of the Pentagon's behavioral science consultation teams, and a full congressional investigation of the use of psychological torture by the U.S. government.

The U.S. military's SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) program was developed to train U.S. soldiers to cope with torture if captured by enemy forces. The Senate Armed Services Committee report noted that SERE's developers had warned Pentagon officials as early as 2002 that "reverse-engineering" SERE techniques for use on detainees "could be ineffective and dangerous."

The SERE program puts members of the military's elite special operations forces through brutal mock interrogations, from sensory deprivation to simulated drowning.

Dr. Jeffrey Kaye, a San-Francisco-based psychologist who has written extensively on the role played by medical professionals in prisoner treatment, told Inter-Press Service that the APA's ties to the Pentagon "are longstanding, going back at least to the Cold War." Any inquiry should make the historical connection between the work of CIA and SERE psychologists and the role of coercive interrogation used in psychologically 'breaking down' a human being."

Kaye added that there is a long history of collaboration between psychologists and the military, which includes several former APA presidents. These men were the "institutional godfathers" for a later generation of psychologists who continue to be deeply involved in interrogation techniques, he said.

In an article accompanying's publication of the APA task force's extensive email exchanges, reporter Sheri Fink posed the question, "Is it possible for psychologists to uphold the ethical tenets of their profession while working within a system of interrogation that violates those tenets? Does it matter if they raised objections to the system of interrogation but cooperated with it anyway?"

The Senate report said that in 2002, a psychiatrist and a psychologist who worked at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, prepared a list of harsh interrogation techniques that ended up influencing interrogation policy not only at Guantánamo, but also in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the same memo, they warned that these methods were likely to result in inaccurate tips and could harm detainees. Those warnings disappeared as the memo moved up the chain of command.

The APA board quickly adopted the task force's report as the organisation's official policy. But last year, members of the APA successfully petitioned for a vote on whether to ban psychologists from working in detention settings where international law or the U.S. Constitution are violated. The membership passed the proposal.

Some psychologists have filed complaints with the APA and state licensing boards against colleagues who were allegedly involved in abusive interrogations.


Judge Pohl's ruling ordering the May 27 hearing noted that "There has been no change in the statutory or regulatory scheme governing military commissions."

In setting that date, Pohl said he was "not trying to influence the administration's review" and would consider adjusting or canceling the hearing if there "are changes between now and May 27."

The major issue at the al-Darbi hearing is how much evidence might be presented at his military trial in a bid to show that he was tortured into confessing crimes he now denies. Al-Darbi's lawyer, Ramzi Kassem of the Yale University law school, is trying to prevent Pentagon prosecutors from introducing dozens of the Saudi's self-incriminating statements, which the lawyer claims were obtained through brutal treatment during interrogations at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay.

Al-Darbi's attorney has requested that two documentary films describing a climate of abuse at the time of al-Darbi's interrogations be introduced as evidence.

During his first week in office, President Obama ordered a case-by-case review of all detainees held at Guantanamo. Al-Darbi's lawyer told Inter-Press Service he doesn't know if al-Darbi's case has been reviewed by the administration. But he was certain that his client could not find justice at a military commission trial, whether it was held in Guantanamo or in the U.S.

The American Civil Liberties Union vowed to launch new legal challenges in federal court to stop the commissions. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero told Inter-Press Service that any plan by the Obama administration's to resuscitate the Guantanamo military commissions and ship them onto American soil "is fatally flawed."

Romero insisted that the military commissions "are built on unconstitutional premises and designed to ensure convictions, not provide fair trials," and promised that the ACLU would litigate to force the administration to prosecute the detainees in the civilian courts.

"Reducing some but not all of the flaws of the tribunals so that they are 'less offensive' is not acceptable," he said. "There is no such thing as 'due process light.' Our justice system depends upon basic principles of fairness and transparency and once they are compromised even a little, they are rendered meaningless."

# # #

Volume IV, Number 38
Special Report Copyright 2009, Inter-Press Service, LLC.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, May 11, 2009

Secret U.S.-Israeli Arms Pact May Derail Obama's Quest for Nuclear-Free Mideast

Issue Likely to be Topic A When Obama Meets With Netanyahu in Washington Next Week; Secret 1969 Nixon-Meir Accord That Commits U.S. to Block International Scrutiny of Israel's Nuclear Arsenal May Become Stumbling Block in Efforts to Halt Nuclear Ambitions of Iran, North Korea

When President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington next week, nuclear weapons are sure to be a major topic of discussion -- specifically Obama's quest for a nuclear-free Middle East. But the meeting could get testy, as a secret pact reached 40 years ago between the U.S. and Israel could prove a stumbling block to Obama's efforts. The 1969 agreement, reached between then-President Richard Nixon and then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, commits the U.S. to shield Israel's nuclear arsenal from international scrutiny. But the urgency of curbing the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea could make the pact untenable. (Photo: Dan Bality/AP)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 11, 2009)


The Washington Times

President Obama's efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons threaten to expose and derail a 40-year-old secret U.S. agreement to shield Israel's nuclear weapons from international scrutiny, former and current U.S. and Israeli officials and nuclear specialists say.

The issue will likely come to a head when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Obama next Monday in Washington. Netanyahu is expected to seek assurances from the president that he will uphold the U.S. commitment and will not trade Israeli nuclear concessions for Iranian ones.

Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, speaking last Tuesday at a U.N. meeting on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), said Israel should join the treaty, which would require Israel to declare and relinquish its nuclear arsenal.

"Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea, ... remains a fundamental objective of the United States," Gottemoeller told the meeting, according to Reuters.

She declined to say, however, whether the Obama administration would press Israel to join the treaty.

A senior White House official said the administration considered the nuclear programs of Israel and Iran to be unrelated "apples and oranges."

Asked by The Washington Times whether the administration would press Israel to join the NPT, the official said, "We support universal adherence to the NPT. [It] remains a long-term goal."

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.


For the past 40 years, Israel and the U.S. have kept quiet about an Israeli nuclear arsenal that is now estimated at 80 to 200 weapons. Israel has promised not to test nuclear weapons while the U.S. has not pressed Israel to sign the nuclear NPT, which permits only five countries -- the U.S., France, Britain, China and the Soviet Union (now Russia) -- to have nuclear arms.

Since the NPT was adopted in 1970, India, Pakistan and North Korea have developed and tested their own nuclear arms. India and Pakistan have both refused to sign the NPT. North Korea was a signatory to the treaty, but withdrew from it in 2007 amid growing concerns about its nuclear program. In one of its first major foreign policy moves following the end of apartheid, South Africa voluntarily abandoned its nuclear program in 2004.

The origins of the U.S. shield of Israel's nuclear program date to a 1969 summit meeting between then-President Richard Nixon and then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, documents released in the past few years show.

There is no one piece of paper that actually describes the accord. However, the closest acknowledgment of the deal came in 2007, when the Nixon Library declassified many of the papers of Henry Kissinger, who served as Nixon's national security adviser and later as his secretary of state.

A July 7, 1969, memorandum to Nixon titled, "Israeli Nuclear Program," said that by the end of 1970, Israel would likely have 24 to 30 French surface-to-surface missiles, 10 of which would have nuclear warheads. Kissinger wrote that ideally, the U.S. would prefer Israel to have no nuclear weapons, but that was not attainable.

He added that "public knowledge is almost as dangerous as possession itself," arguing that an Israeli announcement of its arsenal or a nuclear test could prompt the Soviet Union to offer Arab states a nuclear guarantee. "What this means is that: While we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession, what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact," Kissinger wrote.


In December 2006, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted publicly at this reality.

Responding to a question about the Iranian program in light of Israels nuclear arsenal, he said: "Israel is a democracy, Israel doesn't threaten any country with anything, never did. The most that we tried to get for ourselves is to try to live without terror, but we never threaten another nation with annihilation. Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when they [Iran] are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?"

Avner Cohen, author of the book Israel and the Bomb and the leading expert outside the Israeli government on the history of Israel's nuclear program, referred to the deal as "don't ask, don't tell," because it commits both the U.S. and Israel never to acknowledge in public Israel's nuclear arsenal.

Cohen said Obama's "upcoming meeting with Netanyahu, due to the impending discussions with Iran, will be a platform for Israel to ask for reassurances that old understandings on the nuclear issue are still valid."

When asked what the Obama administration's position was on the 1969 understanding, the senior White House official offered no comment.

Over the years, demands for Israel to come clean have multiplied.


Iranian leaders have long complained about being subjected to a double standard that allows non-NPT members India and Pakistan, as well as Israel, to maintain and even increase their nuclear arsenals but sanctions Tehran, an NPT member, for not cooperating fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.

Last Monday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a U.N. meeting preparing for a major review of the NPT next year that nuclear cooperation by the U.S., France and Britain with Israel is "in total disregard with the obligations under the treaty and commitments undertaken in 1995 and 2000, and a source of real concern for the international community, especially the parties to the treaty in the Middle East."

The Obama administration is seeking talks with Iran on its nuclear program and has dropped a precondition established by the Bush administration for negotiations that Iran first suspend its uranium enrichment program.


"What the Israelis sense, rightly, is that Obama wants to do something new on Iran and this may very well involve doing something new about Israel's program," said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a Washington think tank.

"If you're really serious about a deal with Iran, Israel has to come out of the closet," said Bruce Riedel, a former senior director for the Middle East and South Asia on the White House National Security Council. "A policy based on fiction and double standards is bound to fail sooner or later. What's remarkable is that it's lasted so long."

Riedel headed the Obama administration's review of strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan but does not hold a permanent administration position and has returned to private life as a scholar at the Brookings Institution.

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration, said that Bush resisted international efforts to pressure Israel on the nuclear front. "We did not want to accept any operational language that would put Israel at a disadvantage and raise the question of whether Israel was a nuclear power," he said. "That was not a discussion that we thought was helpful. We allowed very general statements about the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East as long that language was hortatory."


Israel began its nuclear program shortly after the state was founded in 1948 and produced its first weapons, according to Cohen's book, on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli defense doctrine considers the nuclear arsenal to be a strategic deterrent against extinction. But its nuclear monopoly in the region is increasingly jeopardized by Iranian advances and the possibility that Iran's program could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region to rival the Cold War.

Israel's nuclear arsenal has been an open secret for decades, despite the fact that Israeli law forbids Israeli journalists from referring to the state's nuclear weapons unless they quote non-Israeli sources.

In 1986, the Israeli nuclear scientist, Mordecai Vanunu disclosed in the Sunday Times of London photographs and the first insider account of Dimona, the location of Israel's primary nuclear facility. Israel responded by convicting him of treason. He was released in 2004 after spending 18 years in prison but has continued to talk about the program on occasion. The government has barred Vanunu from leaving Israel.


References to a "nuclear-free Middle East," meanwhile, have cropped up increasingly in international resolutions and conferences. For example, the 1991 U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which sanctioned Saddam Hussein's Iraq, noted "the objective of achieving balanced and comprehensive control of armaments in the region."

More recently, a March 2006 IAEA resolution, in referring Iran to the Security Council, noted "that a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and to realizing the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction."

U.S. allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia also have pressed the U.S. to link Israel's weapons to Iran's as part of a plan to implement a nuclear-free Middle East.

A proposal to introduce a Security Council resolution declaring the Middle East a nuclear-free zone and calling for sanctions against those countries that did not comply was broached in a 2006 strategic dialogue between Saudi Arabia and the United States, said Turki al-Faisal, who was Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

"When I talked to American officials about that when I was ambassador here, and before that to British officials in the U.K., the immediate response was, 'Israel is not going to accept,' " Prince Turki said in a conference with editors and reporters of The Washington Times last month. "And my immediate response was, 'So what?' If Israel doesnt accept, it doesn't mean it's a bad idea."


Netanyahu, whose meeting with Obama next Monday will be the first since both took office, raised the issue of the nuclear understanding during his previous tenure as prime minister in the 1990s. Israeli journalists and officials said Netanyahu asked for a reaffirmation and clarification of the Nixon-Meir understanding in 1998 at Wye River, Maryland, where the U.S. mediated an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu wanted a personal commitment from then-President Bill Clinton because of concerns about a treaty that Clinton supported to bar production of fissile materials that can be used to make weapons. Israel was worried that the treaty would apply to de facto nuclear states, including Israel, and might oblige it to allow inspections of Dimona.

In 2000, Israeli journalist Aluf Benn disclosed that Clinton promised Netanyahu at Wye River that "Israel's nuclear capability will be preserved." Benn described as testy an exchange of letters between the two leaders over the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. He said Netanyahu wrote Clinton: "We will never sign the treaty, and do not delude yourselves -- no pressure will help. We will not sign the treaty because we will not commit suicide."

The Bush administration largely dropped the treaty in its first term and reopened negotiations in its second term with a proposal that did not include verification.


Obama has made nuclear disarmament a bigger priority in part to undercut Iran's and North Korea's rationale for proliferation. His administration has begun negotiations with Russia on a new treaty to reduce U.S. and Russian arsenals. He also has expressed support for the fissile material treaty.

"To cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons," he said last month in Prague. "If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade materials that create them."

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington think tank, said such a treaty would be the first step toward limiting the Israeli nuclear program.

"The question is how much of a priority is this for the Obama administration?" he said.

John Bolten, a former U.N. ambassador and undersecretary of state under Bush, said Israel was right to be concerned.

"If I were the Israeli government, I would be very worried about the Obama administration's attitude on their nuclear deterrent," he said. "You can barely raise the subject of nuclear weapons in the Middle East without someone saying: 'What about Israel?' If Israel's opponents put it on the table, it is entirely possible Obama will pick it up."

Asked about the issue, Jonathan Peled, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said, "We don't discuss the strategic relationship between the United States and Israel." The White House had no immediate comment.

However, Gottemoeller endorsed the concept of a nuclear-free Middle East in a 2005 paper that she co-authored, "Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security."

"Instead of defensively trying to ignore Israel's nuclear status, the United States and Israel should proactively call for regional dialogue to specify the conditions necessary to achieve a zone free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons," she wrote.

The paper recommends that Israel take steps to disarm in exchange for its neighbors getting rid of chemical and biological weapons programs as well as Iran forgoing uranium enrichment.

# # #

Volume IV, Number 37
Special Report Copyright 2009, News World Communications, Inc.
The 'Skeeter Bites Repport Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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