Tag Archives: us torture

A Place of Harm

During his recent State of the Union address, the deranged individual presently pretending to be President announced that he would reverse Obama’s 2009 executive order to close the Guantánamo Bay detention center. Now comes Dr. Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), with the following statement in response to this dangerous change in policy:

“We strongly condemn President Trump’s decision to keep the Guantánamo Bay detention center open. The facility is a symbol of U.S. torture and injustice known around the world. It represents the unlawful, immoral, and harmful regime of indefinite detention and should be shuttered immediately.”

“Physicians for Human Rights has long demonstrated how policies of torture, ill-treatment, and indefinite detention have caused lasting physical and psychological harm to detainees and have undermined the rule of law. Most of the men remaining at Guantánamo have been there for more than a decade without charge or trial. Many have been tortured and abused, and they have all been denied full protection under the Geneva Conventions. To this day, detainees continue to be subjected to ill-treatment in the form of force-feeding and medical neglect and continue to face difficulty receiving proper medical treatment or rehabilitation as torture survivors.”

“Guantánamo is a place of harm. First and foremost to the men confined within its walls. But also to the medical professionals enlisted into abusing detainees, in violation of their ethical obligations. And, finally, to the United States’ reputation as a defender of human rights and the rule of law.”

“We call on President Trump and his administration to unequivocally confront the human rights violations presented by Guantánamo, address the urgent medical needs of the 41 detainees, and close this chapter of American history for good.”

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In June 2017, largely ignored by mainstream media preoccupied with whatever distraction filled the air with buzz and bluster, Physicians for Human Rights published a report that documents in meticulous detail a Gitmo reality that we have long suggested was at the very heart of the “state of exception”: the administration of Guantanamo Bay as a research lab for the exploration of the phenomenon of “learned helplessness”.

From the executive summary:

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Learned Helplessness

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Since the early days of DP, we have proposed that the network of black sites and detention facilities assembled under the cover of the War on Terror must be understood in all its multiple identities: as punitive incarceration, obviously; as a pedagogy, with the rest of the world as student body; and as a behavioral lab, with detainees as the lab rats. The last of these is particularly troubling for those who think that the Shining City retains any moral authority whatsoever; how to reconcile practices reminiscent of the likes of Josef Mengele with the supreme righteousness of American exceptionalism?

Now it seems that on the same day Barack Obama was reminding the United Nations of the indispensable virtues of the American Way, lawyers for the ACLU were putting the final touches on a lawsuit filed on behalf of three victims of the psycho-behavioral lab, a suit that singles out two clinical psychologists — James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen — yet with legal implications that may eventually work their way considerably up the chain of command, all the way to the Oval Office.

As the legal brief concisely summarizes, Mitchell and Jessen took a theory developed by Martin Seligman with reference to the behavior of dogs when subjected to electric shock, and repackaged it as a theoretical framework for the administration of a regime of torture. We understand that Dr. Seligman would prefer to be known as the father of the “Just Be Happy” school of positive psychology, and not as the midwife of enhanced interrogation. A PDF of his key study is available for scrutiny here; we publish a few excepts below. The images are drawings from the hand of one of the victims, Mohamed Ben Soud.

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Below, an excellent video summarizing the cruel excesses of the torture laboratory, elements of which (such as forced feedings) continue into the present:

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Let us hope that Mitchell and Jessen, whose consulting firm was paid $81,000,000 from the coffers of American taxpayers, are held accountable for their complicity in such abuse, with the three named plaintiffs duly compensated for their suffering. Though the actions of those further up the food chain are still obscured by the fog machine of national security, this lawsuit represents a promising first step towards justice.