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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

University of Minnesota Hosts Discussion on United States Torture Policies

“Torture is always a crime” was printed across the flyer for the event, and it was the common thread running through each discussant’s lecture. This past Thursday, November 12, former-CIA counterterrorism operations officer John Kiriakou, Professor Bradley Olson of National Louis University, and James V. Roth, local human rights attorney, discussed the role of the American military and government, the American Psychological Association (APA), and themselves in the United States’ implementation of torture techniques in the War on Terror.

“Out of the fourteen, I was the only one to have said ‘no,’” explained Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst. In the period following the September 11th terrorist attacks, Kiriakou was approached by his supervisors to gain a training in what was referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” He declined, but the use of torture on detainees expanded.   In December 2007, Kiriakou made an appearance on ABC News to confirm the use of waterboarding in interrogation of Al Qaeda detainees, which.  According to Kiriakou, in that interview he spoke of three key points: the CIA was torturing, torture was an official US policy, and the policy was approved and signed by the president.  Kiriakou was a frequent source for press interviews and as a result, he came under intense scrutiny by the CIA, FBI, and IRS. 

In early 2012, Kirakou was charged with disclosing classified information to journalists. On October 22, 2012, in Federal District Court in Virginia, Kiriakou pled guilty to one count of passing classified information to the media, and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.  Kiriakou is the only CIA agent who has been tried for offenses related to the harsh interrogation techniques used against detainees in the “war on terror.”

Bradley Olson explained the role of the APA in acquiescing to the role of psychologists in the torture of detainees. According to Olson, as well as the recently-published Hoffman Report, the APA issued ethical guidelines in 2002 and 2005 regarding whether and how psychologists could ethically participate in national security interrogations.  These guidelines supported loosed ethical standards which, according to Olson, condoned APA psychologists who were involved in torture by designing detention conditions and reinforcement paradigms, locating psychological vulnerabilities of the detainees, and acting as safety officers for CIA agents and military personnel.

Olson and his colleagues engaged in a campaign for accountability for the APA’s legitimation of torture. After the results of the independent Hoffman Report, the APA changed its ethics policy, prohibiting its psychologists from participating in national security interrogations. 

Likewise, Jim Roth spoke about his role in drafting a federal-level anti-torture bill for the Senate Intelligence Committee: the McCain-Feinstein Anti-Torture Measure. The legislation, if passed, will act to codify certain limitations on torture and act as a permanent legislation combating torture as an “enhanced interrogation technique.”  It has recently passed the Senate and a congressional reconciliation committee.

In their conclusion, all three men mentioned that they view their position as activists—not only in bringing the truth to light but also in preventing the use of torture in the future.