Friday, May 15, 2009

Let's Lie Our Way to War

As a counselor, I know a little bit about psychology and interviewing. I make no claims to be any kind of expert, particularly on torture or enhanced interrogation, but I do know that the essence of counseling is establishing a relationship with my client.

What is the purpose of counseling? To help the client reach the solution to whatever problem has brought them to me. It is not for me to advise them, to tell them what to do, or even to tell them what the problem is. My values are not theirs, my opinions my own. Our feelings and emotions are often buried very deep and what we identify first (or second) is often not what is really at issue.

The counselors job is to create an environment in which the client feels safe, in which they can explore feelings and experiences that are too strong to deal with alone. Perhaps to re-write the story and this time, come out on top. Perhaps to talk through a problem and explore the consequences to potential solutions. Who knows what is going to happen when a client walks through that door, but it is said, and confirmed in numerous studies, that regardless of training, the act of simply listening - truly, actively listening - is enough to facilitate healing.

Working with victims of abuse, I see clients who have shut down. People often wonder why women stay with men who abuse them, not realizing that the primary abuse is not the physical violence, but rather the assault to the sense of self. Women who are abused are often isolated, cut off from friends and family. A slow and gradual erosion of confidence has taken place that paralyzes their ability to make a decision, to take action. Women who are abused rarely have resources. They rarely have access to money, cell phones, transportation, or the will seek them out. I have met upper-middle-class women who turned over their paychecks to their husbands, who received the grocery money in cash and had to return with the receipt and change. Women who when attending a social event for other women - a Tupperware party or shower - had their husband drive them. Many said "how sweet," when it was really another facet of control. It takes, on average, at least 6 episodes before an abused woman leaves for good. The triggering factor is often when the violence is finally turned on the children.

The point to the above, is that violence and emotional isolation causes the psyche to shut down. The individual feels paralyzed, helpless, without resources, and totally incapable of making independent decisions. Of course I am generalizing with a very broad brush, however, to understand the function of waterboarding, you must first understand the process in which interrogation works.

Countless studies and testimony of experts have shown that empathy, compassion, and relationship-building are essential components to successful interrogation. The FBI is expert at this and trains their interrogators thoroughly to be interrogators. The CIA does not. Why do you suppose that the waterboarding ordered by the Bush White House was conducted by the CIA and by CIA contractors and not by the experts already well trained by the federal government? Even military intelligence officers receive more training, yet the waterboarding was conducted by two psychologists who reverse engineered the training provided in the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape SERE Program used to train military officers in survival tactics.

The fundamental problem, is that the waterboarding did exactly what it was designed to do. Unfortunately, we have two men, President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who did not understand conceptually the purpose for training our soldiers in the SERE program including waterboarding under controlled, extremely brief, circumstances.

Knowing something is controlled, for training, and to help save your life should you be captured is very different emotionally than knowing that something is being done to you by your enemy. The enemy does not care about you. You know they are breaking international law by the very fact that they are engaging in the very techniques that are happening to you, so why should you feel anything except intense, overwhelming fear of death?

Because our soldiers were waterboarded during the Korean War, this training was provided so that the soldiers could learn how to respond to torture. Remember; empathy, compassion, and relationship-building build trust. Physical violence and emotional abuse cause fear and cause the individual to shut down. Soldiers who go through SERE Training are trained to shut down when tortured. When waterboarded, the goal is to become so fearful that you will say anything to make it stop, to lie.

Therefore, when a soldier is waterboarded, shuts down, and lies, he or she has accomplished the goal of the SERE training. Why then, would Bush and Cheney expect a different result? When they were receiving successful, actionable intelligence through standard, relationship-building interrogation techniques, what did they hope to accomplish by doing something designed and guaranteed to elicit false confessions? Why did they demand that these men be tortured time after time after time, sometimes 6 times in one day, when they had already cooperated and established relationships with their interrogators? Why did they bring in these outside contractors to provide "harsh enhanced interrogation" when they had everything they knew?

One reason. One reason only. We had to go to war with Iraq. We had to depose Saddam Hussein. That was the only acceptable solution. On 9/11, there was already talk of Iraqi involvement (strange considering that the highjackers were, for the most part, Saudi nationals and that the only plane allowed to fly that week was one used to pick up members of the Saudi royal family and take them out of the country. hmmmm.) Interesting. That week, and we didn't yet know for sure who was responsible. We just knew though, that it was Bin Laden and Iraq.

Doubt me? Go pick up a copy of the 9/11 Commission Report.

An aide to Saddam Hussein, captured several months after 9/11 - a prisoner of war, by the way, not a "terrorist detainee" - was very cooperative and provided a lot of good information. Unfortunately for him, he didn't say the one thing the White House needed him to say. So, he got to experience some of those non-torture, "we had to do it to keep us safe" enhanced interrogation techniques, including 17 hours in a coffin.

Want to know what he finally had to say? You betcha. Despite our intelligence services all saying it wasn't true - then and later - he said that yes, despite the enmity between Hussein's Baath Party and Bin Laden's jihadists, there was an operational link between the two.

Yay! War! Get to go avenge daddy! (Remember, Saddam Hussein had tried to assassinate Bush I). The 2 men who knew nothing, absolutely nothing about service, got to send our men and women to their deaths and kill tens of thousands of others because they wanted to.

Bush joined the National Guard to avoid service in Vietnam and even then, could not fulfill his contractual obligations. Cheney received 5 deferments because he "had other priorities." What cowards. Too afraid to serve themselves, too afraid that the next attack might actually hit its target (remember all the 'undisclosed locations' and that vacant thousand-yard stare? - 'My Pet Goat'?), they could only prove their manhood by playing war. To our cost.

To our cost.

Thanks for stopping by.Come back soon.


I should perhaps have clarified that the torture of Saddam Hussein's aide occurred after we were already at war with Iraq (hence his status as a prisoner of war). The purpose therefore was a retroactive search for justification for war. No WMD's, remember?

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