Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tapping the Psychological Jugular
Moreover, it is a waste of time and energy to apply strong pressures on a hit-or-miss basis if a tap on the psychological jugular will produce compliance. KUBARK Manual, p. 83
I stopped watching spy shows when The Man from U.N.C.L.E. went off the air in the 1960's. The genre just doesn't thrill me. So, perusing the sources Dr. Alfred McCoy cites in his book, A Question of Torture, I feel as though I'm plunging into a gnostic netherworld, a Never-Never Land of occult knowledge...all the more so since these are not fictional texts.

In the land of exquisite euphemism, "a tap on the psychological jugular" means subjecting a suspect to methods of psychological torture, or --to use today's euphemistic buzz word-- "torture lite." Yet there is nothing either light or lighthearted about the four components of coercive interrogation used at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and identified by Dr. McCoy:
  • sensory deprivation
  • self-inflicted pain (i.e., stress positions, as opposed to less...refined... techniques such as thumb screws)
  • attacks of Arab cultural sensitivity
  • exploitation of fears and phobias of individuals.
Then I reflect: The pseudo-research in KUBARK was all paid for with our tax money...and more currently, the "de facto behavioral research laboratory" of Guantánamo Bay Prison, with mine.

As Dr. M
cCoy explained in his hour-long lecture at the QUIT Conference and in his book, the extravagantly funded research into psychological methods of torture was originally a race to keep up with supposed innovations of the Soviets and North Koreans, à la The Manchurian Candidate. However, by 1951, experts had concluded that the enemy had not discovered any new techniques and that, as a matter of fact, "there had been nothing new in the interrogation business since the days of the Inquisition" (A Question of Torture, p.34). So, it was time for some real advances...

In response to those government officials who deemed the outrages committed at Abu Ghraib to be the work of "creeps" or "a few bad apples," Dr. McCoy uncovers a paper trail leading back some 50 years and upward to the highest echelons, demonstrating that a culture of torture is indeed a deeply entrenched legacy at the CIA. What's more, it was aided and abetted by the participation of some of the "100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century" (p. 33), whose studies were published (in appropriately sanitized versions) in scholarly journals and even in Scientific American (another icon besmirched!). The Gitmo-izing of Abu Ghraib had plenty of precedent.

"The isolation technique," said one of the eminent researchers, "could break any man, no matter how intelligent or strong-willed" (p. 38). Reading the details about how this "deeply coerced sensory deprivation could disturb the mind," (p. 39), I feel disturbed by waves of nausea. This history of our country's covert program of research into "alternative interrogation methods" is a call to consciousness and action for anyone who believes in the God-given dignity of every human being.

(If you haven't the time --or the stomach--for the entire book, listen to the synopsis provided by Dr. McCoy in an interview on Democracy Now!)

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