The Psychology of Calculated Humiliation and Degradation
Allen L. Barker
alb at datafilter.com
Sun May 9 00:16:13 EST 2004
Abuse was thought out, experts say
By M.S. Enkoji -- Bee Staff Writer
Last Updated 5:00 am PDT Friday, May 7, 2004
Graphic images depicting abuse and humiliation of Iraqi captives at
the hands of American forces will likely focus attention on the role
of psychologists advising the military on interrogation techniques,
experts following the controversy said.
While aimed at breaking the prisoners, the techniques developed by the
psychologists are designed to skirt the Geneva Conventions and
U.N. prohibitions of torture, they said.
Typical examples are sleep deprivation, allegedly used at the
U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and forcing captives
to stand still for extended periods, said Gerald Gray, founder of the
Center for Survivors of Torture in San Jose.
"It all points up," Gray said of the Iraqi abuse techniques. "It's
evidence that this is something that was instructed."
In the Muslim world, nudity is taboo, as are the homosexual acts some
of the prisoners were forced to portray in the photos taken at Abu
Ghraib, the American-held prison near Baghdad.
"Using a known cultural value to humiliate would indicate study," Gray
said. "It could be accidental, but probably not."
For decades, some psychiatrists and psychologists have helped train
military interrogators in techniques that attempt to circumvent Geneva
Conventions and U.N. policies, said Gray, who is part of a contingent
of therapists who denounce others in their field for teaching what
they say amounts to psychological torture.
Revelations of abuse in Iraq will widen that controversy, Gray said.
Physician Daniel Kusnir, who practiced as a psychiatrist in Argentina
and now treats torture survivors in his Hayward office, said he isn't
convinced that the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison was an isolated incident
involving rogue soldiers.
"It's not an accident they were taking pictures," Kusnir said. "They
had a purpose."
Kusnir said he is chilled to see the work of others in his profession,
who are supposed to heal and relieve pain instead of helping inflict
"It can't be more perverse," he said.
Targeting cultural vulnerabilities is nothing new, said physician
Harvey Weinstein, associate director of the Human Rights Center at the
University of California, Berkeley.
Weinstein, a clinical professor in the university's School of Public
Health, detailed U.S. experiments with coercion techniques in his 1990
book, "Psychiatry and the CIA, Victims of Mind Control." His father, a
patient in a Canadian mental hospital, was involuntarily used in CIA
experiments conducted over 20 years beginning in 1953.
"These techniques were taken to a high gloss by the U.S. military with
the assistance of physicians and doctors," Weinstein said.
The best hope for stopping such abuse is more scrutiny from human
rights watchdogs, Weinstein said.
"It's very clear that the nongovernmental organizations are very
important in monitoring these conditions," he said.
Survivors International, a San Francisco-based organization that
psychologically evaluates refugees seeking asylum, would likely
testify that a refugee was tortured if he or she had endured some of
the treatment depicted in the Iraq prison photos, said David Hinkley,
"Many in the military won't say that's torture. But they've been
definitely tortured," he said.
Disclosure of the prisoner abuse has caused an explosion of outrage in
the Arab world as new revelations tumble out, the Army's investigation
widens and the U.S. government scrambles to contain the damage to
For the captives, posed in photos like human trophies with grinning
Americans, there may never be an end to the experience.
"What we've learned over the years is that there can be very lasting
permanent, psychological damages," said Hinkley, whose organization
works with 200 torture survivors a year from at least 50 countries.
Depression, debilitating phobias and suicidal tendencies are common in
survivors, he said, even those who suffer no physical abuse.
In one of the photos of the Iraqi abuse, a hooded prisoner is hooked
up to wires and was threatened with electrical shocks, according to
published reports. The combination of the props and the threats is
torture, even if the prisoner receives no shocks, Hinkley said.
"I've had torture survivors tell me the worst they've survived are
mock executions," he said.
After several false trips before a firing squad or other staged
executions, the stress broke them, Hinkley said.
Flashbacks still haunt Vietnamese torture survivor Nhuong Nguyen, who
spent seven years in a Communist prison camp.
It's not the beatings he remembers most, but the deprivation, the
dehumanizing conditions that forced him to catch frogs, mice and
snakes to eat: "Any animal," said Nguyen, now 60 and living in
At times, he still dreams he is back there, forced to don wet clothes
in the winter and sent to work in the forest, or getting called into a
room as others leave with broken bones.
"I get very scared," he said.
Other military practices will likely come under scrutiny in reaction
to the Abu Ghraib photographs and revelations about conduct at the
prison, human rights experts said. One likely will be the practice of
using civilian contractors who take responsibility - and legal
liability - for their actions on behalf of the military.
"Who has a right to investigate their behavior? It's unclear," said
Diane Marie Amann, a professor of international criminal law at UC
Davis. "It's going to have to be addressed."
The Geneva Conventions - four treaties signed in 1949 that govern war
conduct - have forced the U.S. military to train extensively so that
combatants are clear on what is and isn't allowed, Amann said.
"Is the U.S. training those other kinds of people?" Amann said.
The photographs are unambiguous, she said. It's torture, even under
the broadest interpretation of standard humanitarian policies,
including a recent U.S. military policy that forbids inflicting severe
mental or physical pain on captives, she said.
Trained or not, anyone should realize the conduct depicted in the
photos is wrong, Amann said: "My 6-year-old knows that."
Baghdad native Ayad Al-Qazzaz, now a U.S. citizen and teaching
sociology at California State University, Sacramento, said the
photographs and revelations only confirm the greatest fears of many
Iraqis and will fuel anti-American hostilities.
"We've heard it many times before, but now we have evidence. And it
came from American sources," Al-Qazzaz said.
The reaction in Iraq, where he still has siblings, was one of disgust,
he said. "Here was a country claiming to be liberators, and they're
practicing the same techniques as what was before, perhaps worse
because they claim to be liberators."
About the Writer
The Bee's M.S. Enkoji can be reached at (916) 321-1106 or
menkoji at sacbee.com.
UK forces taught torture methods
Saturday May 8, 2004
The sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was not
an invention of maverick guards, but part of a system of ill-treatment
and degradation used by special forces soldiers that is now being
disseminated among ordinary troops and contractors who do not know
what they are doing, according to British military sources.
The techniques devised in the system, called R2I - resistance to
interrogation - match the crude exploitation and abuse of prisoners at
the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.
One former British special forces officer who returned last week from
Iraq, said: "It was clear from discussions with US private contractors
in Iraq that the prison guards were using R2I techniques, but they
didn't know what they were doing."
He said British and US military intelligence soldiers were trained in
these techniques, which were taught at the joint services
interrogation centre in Ashford, Kent, now transferred to the former
US base at Chicksands.
"There is a reservoir of knowledge about these interrogation
techniques which is retained by former special forces soldiers who are
being rehired as private contractors in Iraq. Contractors are bringing
in their old friends".
Using sexual jibes and degradation, along with stripping naked, is one
of the methods taught on both sides of the Atlantic under the slogan
"prolong the shock of capture", he said.
Female guards were used to taunt male prisoners sexually and at
British training sessions when female candidates were undergoing
resistance training they would be subject to lesbian jibes.
"Most people just laugh that off during mock training exercises, but
the whole experience is horrible. Two of my colleagues couldn't cope
with the training at the time. One walked out saying 'I've had
enough', and the other had a breakdown. It's exceedingly disturbing,"
said the former Special Boat Squadron officer, who asked that his
identity be withheld for security reasons.
Many British and US special forces soldiers learn about the
degradation techniques because they are subjected to them to help them
resist if captured. They include soldiers from the SAS, SBS, most air
pilots, paratroopers and members of pathfinder platoons.
A number of commercial firms which have been supplying interrogators
to the US army in Iraq boast of hiring former US special forces
soldiers, such as Navy Seals.
"The crucial difference from Iraq is that frontline soldiers who are
made to experience R2I techniques themselves develop empathy. They
realise the suffering they are causing. But people who haven't
undergone this don't realise what they are doing to people. It's a
shambles in Iraq".
The British former officer said the dissemination of R2I techniques
inside Iraq was all the more dangerous because of the general mood
among American troops.
"The feeling among US soldiers I've spoken to in the last week is also
that 'the gloves are off'. Many of them still think they are dealing
with people responsible for 9/11".
When the interrogation techniques are used on British soldiers for
training purposes, they are subject to a strict 48-hour time limit,
and a supervisor and a psychologist are always present. It is
recognised that in inexperienced hands, prisoners can be plunged into
The spectrum of R2I techniques also includes keeping prisoners naked
most of the time. This is what the Abu Ghraib photographs show, along
with inmates being forced to crawl on a leash; forced to masturbate in
front of a female soldier; mimic oral sex with other male prisoners;
and form piles of naked, hooded men.
The full battery of methods includes hooding, sleep deprivation, time
disorientation and depriving prisoners not only of dignity, but of
fundamental human needs, such as warmth, water and food.
The US commander in charge of military jails in Iraq, Major General
Geoffrey Miller, has confirmed that a battery of 50-odd special
"coercive techniques" can be used against enemy detainees. The
general, who previously ran the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, said
his main role was to extract as much intelligence as possible.
Interrogation experts at Abu Ghraib prison were there to help make the
prison staff "more able to garner intelligence as rapidly as
Sleep deprivation and stripping naked were techniques that could now
only be authorised at general officer level, he said.
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