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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What I Learned from My Time in Solitary

Phil Haslanger in the solitary confinement cell. Photo courtesy Phil Haslanger

I started this year in solitary confinement.

It’s not that I am regularly in prison or that I had behaved so badly. I was simply in a mock solitary cell located in the sanctuary of a church. I was only there for an hour. I knew I would be getting out.

But that hour did offer a glimpse into the world of how solitary confinement is used – and abused – in our nation’s prisons. And it offered a glimpse at the reform efforts that are gaining steam all across the country, including in my home state of Wisconsin.

When Kate Edwards, a Buddhist chaplain who has worked in the Wisconsin prison for the past five-and-half years, closed the door behind me, I was alone, but hardly in silence.

Weekly Wrap 12.19.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Hero mom calls into C-SPAN to berate her arguing pundit sons 
Whether or not your family expects heated political debate over the holidays, you''ll appreciate the way this mom quiets her sons.

2. 14 Women of Color Who Rocked 2014 
From the creators of #BlackLivesMatter to the founder of an organization focused on women with incarcerated loved ones, meet the women of color at the forefront of the fight for justice.

3. The Myth of Crying Rape
From Jim Wallis and Sandi Villarreal: "The reality is, these survivors are often re-victimized by a system that interrogates rather than advocates and then fails to deliver justice in a vast majority of cases ... Failure to recognize the sins of power and domination that influence the acts of violence against half of God’s creatures is simply bad theology."

4. Citing Health Risks, Cuomo Bans Fracking in New York State
A win for environmentalists that could set an important precedent.

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.

Weekly Wrap 12.12.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Read the Torture Report
While its 525 pages — and disturbing subject matter — may cause you to opt for the news coverage and analysis, you can actually read the entire Torture Report yourself — even before Melville House Books ensures it’s on the shelves your local bookstore. Download now.

2. WATCH: John McCain’s Floor Speech on Torture
In case you do need some context on the importance of releasing this report, watch this floor statement by Arizona Sen. McCain, quite an authority on the matter. “I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.”

3. Two Years Since Newtown: WATCH This Father’s Story
Sunday marks the two-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in which 20 children and six faculty and staff were killed. Mark Barden, the father of Daniel, 7, who was killed in the tragedy, tells his powerful story in this video. 

4. What MSU Protesters Are Really Fighting For
With all of the “controversy” over the Rolling Stone UVA rape story, it might be tempting to think that college campus sexual assault — and the mishandling of cases by college administrators — is not quite on the epidemic scale the piece made it out to be. (Y’know, kind of like when it’s cold outside and people say, “So much for ‘global warming!’” *facepalm*) But it’s not just one person’s story, and it’s not just UVA. Check out this piece to see what’s happening on another college campus.  


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.