When Psychology Is Used For Torture

Image via Janaka Dharmasena/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

An independent report commissioned by the American Psychological Association (APA) has found that the association secretly colluded with the Department of Defense and the CIA to weaken the APA’s ethical guidelines and allow psychologists to take part in government torture programs under the Bush administration post-9/11.

As a theologian who is married to a psychotherapist, I have always been a vocal advocate of the value of psychology in the pursuit of human flourishing. Psychology is considered one of the “healing professions.” A central tenant among all health care providers is “do no harm.”

Pastor: If DOJ Officials Won’t Read the Torture Report, I'll Read It to Them

Photo via National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Left to Right: Rev. Ron Stief, Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, Colin Jager. Photo via National Religious Campaign Against Torture

Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park, N.J., travelled to Washington, D.C., on June 3 with a simple task: to read the torture report outside the Department of Justice.

“As a pastor, I know that admitting the truth is the first step toward redemption,” said Kaper-Dale.

“When the DOJ admitted in court that it hadn’t even opened, let alone read, the full Torture Report, I knew I had to help the department start the path toward redemption. By reading the report outside the DOJ, I hope to open the hearts of at least a few DOJ employees.”

The Torture Monkey

THERE'S NO BETTER sequel to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s executive summary of the torture report than Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s newly published Guantánamo Diary. This harrowing tale is only one of what someday will be many direct accounts by victims.

Originally from Mauritania, Slahi, 44, was detained on a journey home in January 2000 and questioned about the so-called Millennium plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport. Slahi admitted that he’d fought against Afghanistan’s communist government with the Mujahideen, at that time supported by the U.S. But he never opposed the United States. Authorities released him. A year and a half later, the young engineer was again detained and again released.

Months later, Slahi drove himself to a local police station to answer questions. This time, Americans forced him onto a CIA plane bound for Jordan, where he claims he was tortured. On Aug. 5, 2002, Americans brought him to Guantánamo. Slahi is among the detainees whose horrific torture there is the centerpiece of the Senate report. None other than then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed the “special interrogation plan” authorizing his brutal ordeal.

Slahi divides his imprisonment into pre-torture, when he truthfully denied any involvement in terrorism, and post-torture, “where my brake broke loose. I yessed every accusation my interrogators made. I even wrote the infamous confession about me planning to hit the CN Tower in Toronto, based on SSG [redacted] advice. I just wanted to get the monkeys off my back.”

His captors beat and threatened him, and  subjected him to bitter cold, sleep deprivation, stress positions, and repulsive sexual abuse by female interrogators. Yet Slahi seems more traumatized by the torture he witnessed: teenagers who could barely lift their heads, confused old men, and others like him who said anything to get the pain to stop.

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Torturous Logic

THE SENATE Intelligence Committee finally released in December its long-delayed report on “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed by the CIA in the U.S. global “war on terrorism.” That these techniques—including waterboarding, “rectal feeding,” weeklong sleep deprivation, threats to harm detainees’ children—constituted torture, in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions, is a reality that is difficult to deny. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her colleagues should be commended for facing and exposing the grim truths behind our nation’s post-9/11 conduct.

Unfortunately, recent polling has revealed some disturbing attitudes among Americans on this issue—particularly among Christians. A Washington Post/ ABC News poll conducted shortly after the Senate report’s release found that 59 percent of Americans believe the CIA’s treatment of suspected terrorists was justified, compared to just 31 percent who believe it was unjustified. Startlingly, among Christians who were polled, that number rises to between 66 percent and 75 percent who believe the techniques were justified. In this same poll, 53 percent of respondents indicated they believe these techniques produced important information that could not have been obtained any other way, compared to just 31 percent who disagree.

These poll results fly in the face of the Senate report’s findings. Some of the key phrases from the report summarize the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program as follows: “Not an effective means of acquiring intelligence”; “complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions”; and “damaged the United States’ standing in the world.”

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Torture, the Bible, and America's Faith in Violence

Blood over the image of a cross. Image courtesy Markus Plank/

Blood over the image of a cross. Image courtesy Markus Plank/

Does the Bible describe a God of love or a God of genocide? How are we to reconcile that the apparent answer to this question is that it describes both? As people of faith, we need to face the sobering fact that some parts of our Bible command us to love our enemies, while other parts command mercilessly slaughtering them. If the Bible is God's Word, how can it present such starkly contrasting visions of who God is, and what faithfulness to God entails?

The typical response among conservative Christians is to seek to justify violence as good in an attempt to defend the Bible. This tendency to defend violence becomes especially relevant in the wake of the Senate report on the CIA's use of torture. While the report was met with shock and outrage in some quarters, it was also defended by a good number of conservative Evangelical Christians. In fact, a 2009 Pew Research poll found that 6-in-10 white Evangelicals support the government's use of torture.

Politicians defend torture in the name of "justice" and "defense," while conservative Christians speak in the more religious language of "God's will," citing biblical texts for support. In the end, however, the same point is being made. Whether it is described in the vocabulary of religion or more "secular" terms, violence — and in the case of torture, shockingly inhumane violence — is described as a necessary means for bringing about the good. This logic is at the heart of all religious violence, and it is a view that is alive and well today.

On the other hand, the typical liberal Christian response to the violence in the Bible is to act as if it were not there. One speaks of Christianity as a "religion of love," and points to the many parts of the Bible that speak of caring for the poor and the stranger.

'Just War' Tradition Raises Disturbing Questions Regarding the Use of Lethal Drones

A unmanned military drone. Image courtesy Shutterstock / RNS

A unmanned military drone. Image courtesy Shutterstock / RNS

Since June 18, 2004, the first day U.S. drones killed people in what has been called the U.S. “global war on terror,” people of faith have questioned whether the use of lethal drones is justifiable.

Since then, the CIA has conducted an estimated 400 or more drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Drone strikes are continuing in Syria and Iraq. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, including women and children.

These “targeted” killings are conducted remotely in countries against which we have not declared war. Lethal drone strikes occur without warning, target for death specific individuals who are secretly selected, and are operated remotely by individuals thousands of miles away.

The U.S. religious community questions the morality of such drone warfare.

Many people of faith who are not pacifists adhere to the “Just War” tradition as enshrined in international law, which assumes that war is always an evil, but that sometimes there is a greater evil that requires military force.

The Torture Report: A Historical Perspective

schankz /

schankz /

The release of a 600-page executive summary of the CIA torture report on Tuesday gave confirmation and imagery to many of our saddest suspicions and vague understandings of the CIA’s use of torture. The report, conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee between 2009 and 2013, reveals that the U.S. carried out post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation techniques” in an ineffective and fear-fueled effort to prevent terrorism. In an attempt to protect our nation, we lost our values, and then tried to destroy the evidence. Still, many shameful specifics are now public knowledge:

Interrogators have exposed detainees to dark, cold isolation, forced rectal feedings, threats to family members, simulated drowning, 180 hours of sleep deprivation, and much more. The Justice Department still hasn’t pressed any federal charges.

This government transparency is new, but the sins are old. Sojourners has advocated for the end and exposure of U.S. torture techniques for years. Take a look at the Sojourners articles below to learn more about the effects of the program and the dreary history that precipitated the report.

Torture Report Reveals That Truth Trumps Lies

CIA floor seal, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

CIA floor seal, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report detailing the CIA’s brutal post-9/11 torture program is a watershed moment for the values of our nation. The report contains some serious truth-telling. The CIA consistently lied to Congress, the DOJ, White House staff, and the public about its torture program. The torture program’s cruelty was much worse and its effectiveness far less than Congress and the general public were led to believe. The CIA violated a court order by destroying videotapes documenting torture, and used bribes to secure secret sites used for torture in a number of countries. This isn’t an example of our government at its best; it’s an example of how to carry out a cover-up.

The entire rationale for the CIA’s torture program is undercut by the conclusions of this report. In the words of Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), as she spoke about the report on the floor of the Senate, “Even if one were to set aside all of the moral arguments, coercive interrogation techniques did not produce the vital, otherwise unavailable intelligence the CIA has claimed.” Immoral and illegal, we now know that the program was also ineffective.

A broad array of faith leaders have responded to the Torture Report by condemning the CIA’s torture program. For followers of some faiths, torture violates the image of God; for others, it is an intrinsic evil. People of all faiths, though, hold human life to be sacred, and the long shadow torture casts on the moral integrity of our nation represents a travesty of justice as well as a flagrant violation of human rights. Dr. Roy Medley, General Secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, makes a plea that could almost serve as a benediction to the whole sordid chapter of this history of torture: “May God give us the moral courage to never again betray the core principles that have guided our nation as a leader in the struggle for human rights.”

Now the hard work in Congress begins to ensure that torture never, ever happens in the name of our nation.

An Ambiguous Political Prophet

THE KENNAN DIARIES, carefully edited by Frank Costigliola, a University of Connecticut historian, covers an amazing and sometimes disturbing 88-year period of personal journal-writing by George F. Kennan, who became the most famous diplomat-intellectual of the 20th century.

Born in 1904 (he died in 2005) Kennan, a Milwaukee native, grew up in an upper-class Scotch-Irish Presbyterian family with three older sisters and a father who was a tax attorney.

After graduating from Princeton, Kennan became a Foreign Service officer with the State Department, eventually serving in posts throughout Europe. But Kennan’s first love was Russia. He wrote in his diary that “he had a mystical connection to Leningrad, as though he had once lived there.” He was offered a three-year university stint in Berlin by the State Department—Kennan’s boss wanted him to be educated like a pre-Bolshevik Russian gentleman. Kennan’s grasp of the Russian language and history became exceptional. Together with his prodigious analytical skills, it would be the foundation of his brilliant career.

After 20 years abroad, Kennan fired off his famous 5,540-word “Long Telegram” on Feb. 22, 1946, from Moscow to Washington. Soon afterward, in July 1947, he wrote another piece in Foreign Affairs under the byline “X.” In the two pieces he said that the Soviets under Stalin would try aggressively to expand, but that the U.S. should not employ military means to stop them. Instead, Kennan advocated “containment,” heavily monitoring the Russians with hard-headed diplomacy and tough talk. He also stated that the Soviet Union would eventually self-destruct.

Kennan became famous overnight and was appointed to the State Department’s U.S. Policy Planning Staff. He also worked closely with Secretary of State George Marshall in developing the Marshall Plan, which put Europe back on the road to recovery.

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CIA Torture Report Ought to Disturb All Our Consciences

Rev. Ron Stief, is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Ron Stief.

At Easter, Christians celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead. But in light of new revelations of the CIA’s abhorrent acts of torture, it’s the United States that needs resurrection, too.

Details of the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 torture campaign — made worse, if that is possible, by evidence of official deception — are described in key portions of the report on CIA-sponsored torture that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted last week to release.

Though the public has not yet seen the report, current and former U.S. officials who have read it have disclosed information to The Washington Post, Human Rights Watch, and other sources that ought to disturb all of our consciences.