Tag Archives: torture

How a US psychologists’ association colluded in torture

By J Wesley Boyd, Harvard University 
July, 2015

Iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq

Iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq

In November 2014, the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association (APA) asked David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, to lead an independent review of allegations that the APA colluded with U.S. government officials to sanction the use of interrogation techniques tantamount to torture.

The APA asked Hoffman to investigate these allegations just weeks before the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture, a report that raised major questions about the participation of psychologists in interrogation sessions.

Hoffman was specifically asked to investigate questions about ethical guidelines issued by the APA in 2002 and 2005 that dictated when psychologists could ethically participate in national security interrogations.

Hoffman’s report was leaked on July 10 and confirmed many people’s (including my) worst suspicions.

Here, then, is what we now know – and here is my analysis of how America’s biggest association of psychologists could choose its “ethics policy based on its goals of helping [the Department of Defense].”

Hoffman has confirmed that that officials at the APA colluded with the Department of Defense (DOD) as well as the CIA to allow psychologists to participate in interrogations from the beginning of the “war on terror” until Obama came into office in 2009 and rescinded authorization for enhanced interrogation techniques.

Although I have been working in medical ethics for 20 years, I first became aware of and alarmed by health care personnel’s participation in the use of torture a decade ago, when photos were leaked from the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib.

More specifically, this led me to study what medical students and graduate psychology students were learning about military medical ethics and their obligations as health professionals under the Geneva Convention.

It also prompted me to look at the close relationship between the Department of Defense (DOD) and the American Psychological Association.

Drafting policy and ethical guidelines for psychologists is one of the central tasks the APA performs. And to craft these statements and guidelines, the APA uses panels of psychologists.

The Hoffman report reveals that the collusion between the APA and government affected both the composition of panels designed to craft APA policy and the content of their proclamations.

These proclamations set APA policy and, in effect, dictate what is ethically permissible or not for psychologists. The Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force 2005 report – that fully gave permission to psychologists to participate in interrogations – is an example of this.

The PENS report was authored in partial secrecy and approved by a panel carefully selected by APA officials, the majority of whom had close ties to DOD. As Hoffman reveals, the PENS task force was “the result of close and confidential collaboration with certain Defense Department officials before, during, and after the task force met.”

The PENS report allowed psychologists to participate in interrogations if they adhered to US law, but they violated every international code of medical ethics.

The point is that the way the Bush administration crafted US law flew in the face of medical ethics, allowing for detainees to be tortured, for example, because they were not “prisoners of war,” and therefore not protected by the Geneva Conventions.

The APA’s permissive ethical stance allowed psychologists to participate in interrogations, providing necessary cover for dubious so-called “enhanced techniques” to continue.

In this the APA stood alone among the major organizations for health professionals in the United States. By 2006, both the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association issued decrees prohibiting their members from participating in interrogations.

If the APA had done the same and prohibited psychologists from participating, harsh interrogations and torture would have come to a screeching halt because their presence, as health professionals, provided an air of legitimacy to interrogations. And this was needed (at least in part) to confer protection against future prosecutions of the interrogators. Any interrogators who were questioned could easily point to the psychologists then present to illustrate that their methods had to be safe and ethical.

In fact, the APA did not rescind the 2005 PENS report until 2013.

And even then, there remained significant holes that still allowed psychologists to be present during interrogations. The APA thwarted efforts to oppose unethical behavior and took active steps to protect the psychologists involved in the interrogation program from professional ethical complaints.

In fact, it was the APA’s ethics director, Stephen Behnke, who oversaw much of this effort. To top things off, unbeknownst to the APA board, Behnke himself reportedly received a Pentagon contract to help train interrogators.

And – as all of this was happening behind the scenes – the APA leadership was telling the APA general membership that the goal of the association’s standards was to protect the health and welfare of the prisoners at Guantanamo.

Bound, hooded captives, being flown to Guantanamo. United States Department of Defence photo

Bound, hooded captives, being flown to Guantanamo. US Defence Department  photo

How could this happen?

Part of the answer must lie in the fact that psychologists receive little training about the ethical duties of health care personnel in military settings. Without that training, many of them simply didn’t know better.

In a paper published last year, colleagues and I found that 74% of graduate students in psychology had received less than an hour of instruction on military medical ethics.

We also found that only one-third to one-half of students in these courses could correctly answer questions about when they would be required to disobey an unethical order, for instance, according to the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions are clear in stating that prisoners are required to give only their name, rank, branch of service and serial number to interrogators. Additionally, they should be given food, shelter and medical treatment and never humiliated, threatened or harmed in any way.

In the wake of the Hoffman report, APA ethics director Steve Behnke has gone (whether voluntarily or not is not yet clear) and, in an official statement, the organization has acknowledged the “deeply disturbing findings” that were “a failure to live up to our core values” and has outlined various recommendations.

The APA has also announced the departure of three other staff members: CEO Norman Anderson, Deputy CEO Michael Honaker, and the Executive Director for Public and Member Communications Rhea Farberman.

More, however, is to be done.

The APA should also publicly praise those dissident psychologists who have over the last decade steadfastly protested APA’s support of interrogations and torture – despite the chiding they received from the APA administration.

Additionally, the APA ought to call for significant investment in in ethics education for practicing psychologists as well as psychology trainees.

The fact that the United States resorted to torturing prisoners – many of whom are innocent, or in the words of the Senate Report on torture, “wrongfully detained” – will likely go down as one of our country’s most egregious ethical lapses. The fact that a major health care association colluded in this lapse is unconscionable.

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The Conversation

J Wesley Boyd is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Journalism has value: please help sustain us with a “hat tip” donation (every two bits helps), or by purchasing a subscriptionFacts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O provides journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising, you will never see “branded content” articles on our pages, and we do not solicit donations from foundations or causes. Subscribe by email to our free FRONTLINES blog, find evidence-based dispatches in Reports; commentary, analysis and longer form writing in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. Some of our original works are behind a paywall, available with a $1 site day pass, or with a subscription from $2.95/month – $19.95/year. Email editor@factsandopinions.com to inquire about republishing F&O’s original content. 


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U.S. conviction of David Hicks, Guantanamo Detainee, not valid

by Raymond Bonner, Special to ProPublica
Jan. 28, 2015

David Hicks speaking in xx. Photo by Adam Thomas via Flickr, Creative Commons

David Hicks speaking in Canberra. Photo by Adam Thomas/Flickr, Creative Commons

SYDNEY — The United States has acknowledged that the conviction of an Australian man held for nearly six years in Guantanamo Bay was not legally valid.

The Australian, David Hicks, was one of the first people sent to Guantanamo, and he has already figured in a key U.S. court decision that expanded the rights of detainees held in the offshore prison. Initially charged with multiple crimes, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism, attempted murder, and aiding the enemy, Hicks ultimately pleaded guilty to a single charge of providing “material support” to terrorism.

Hicks recently appealed, arguing that the law used against him was passed after 9/11 and could not be applied retroactively. In its reply, the U.S. argued that the review court should refuse to review the case because Hicks had entered a guilty plea.  But in a crucial concession, the military commission’s chief prosecutor said that if the appeal were allowed, “the Court should not confirm Hicks’s material-support conviction.”  

The Jan. 16 brief by Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins was obtained by ProPublica and has not yet been made public.

“Hicks will finally get justice,” said Michael Mori, a Marine Corps major who was Hicks’ military lawyer. Mori is now out of the military and is no longer involved in the case, but he said he has seen a copy of the prosecutor’s brief, as did two lawyers currently representing Hicks.

Hicks would not have been convicted in the first place “if the case had been tried in federal court, instead of the politically motivated military commissions,” said Mori, author of a book about the case, “In the Company of Cowards: Bush, Howard and Injustice at Guantanamo,” which was published last September.

The latest development is a striking retreat for the American government. The Bush administration initially described Hicks as among the “worst of the worst,” the label used for the men held in Guantanamo. And in 2007, when Hicks was still in Guantanamo, the American ambassador in Australia, Robert D. McCallum Jr., described the Guantanamo detainees as “ruthless fanatics who would kill Australians and Americans without blinking an eye.”

Hicks’ case stands out in any discussion about the use of the military commissions in the war on terror. He was a Westerner, Detainee 002 (001 was another Westerner, John Walker Lindh, from San Francisco. Lindh pleaded guilty in federal court to two-terrorism-related charges in 2002 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison) and he was on the first plane bringing prisoners to Guantanamo.

Later, Hicks was a plaintiff in the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that Guantanamo detainees had the right to file habeas petitions in civilian courts to challenge their detention.  And he was the first person convicted and sentenced by the military commission.

Many legal analysts have questioned whether the military process begun by the Bush administration can ever arrive at the truth.  How can a judge assess a statement extracted by torture? How reliable are the allegations in the government’s indictments when prosecutors overcharged, as they did in Hicks’ case? If the Bush administration had allowed suspects to be tried in federal courts, the government’s charges and the suspects’ claims of innocence could have been put to rigorous test.

In the case of David Hicks, opinions remain divided over whether he was a lost soul in search of adventure and meaning in his life or a committed Taliban supporter, who, with his Caucasian skin and Australian passport, was being groomed by al-Qaida to carry out terrorist attacks in the West.

A heavy drinker and drug user, Hicks was expelled from school at 14. He was only 5-feet-5-inches tall, but he played Australian Rules football, which is physically more demanding than rugby, and became a kangaroo skinner in Australia’s Outback; he then went to Japan to train horses. Tired of that, he ventured to the Balkans where he joined the Kosovo Liberation Army, which at the time was fighting with NATO support against Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia’s leader.  When that war ended, he returned to Australia, and after trying unsuccessfully to join the Australian army, he went to Pakistan, hoping to ride the Silk Trail on horseback, he told his parents.

There, he found Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani-supported organization battling India in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Lashkar-e-Taiba eventually ended up on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations and executed the 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people, including six Americans. But at the time, the group was officially viewed as a collection of regional insurgents.

Lashkar sent Hicks to Afghanistan for training. American and Australian officials have said that he attended at least four al-Qaida camps. In the most exhaustive journalistic examination of the Hicks case, “Detainee 002: The Case of David Hicks,” Australian journalist Leigh Sales wrote that Hicks “did a seven week training course, including marksmanship, small team tactics, ambush, camouflage and intelligence gathering,” and that he claimed to have met bin Laden twenty times, which was probably a boast, which he later regretted. A military prosecutor described Hicks, to Sales, as a “ne’er-do-well,” “big talker,” and a “kooky maverick,” without the courage or intellect to carry out a major operation.

In his own memoir, “Guantanamo: My Journey,” Mr. Hicks glosses over his time in Afghanistan. Sally Neighbour, an Australian journalist who has written extensively on Islam and terrorism post 9/11, asserted in her review of the book that Hicks had been less than forthcoming. She noted that he devoted only one page in the 456-page book to his al-Qaida training.

“None of this is to suggest that David Hicks deserved the ‘six years of hell’ he describes,” Neighbour wrote. “He did not, which is why so many Australians campaigned for his release. At the least, Hicks owed them a frank, open and truthful account of his whole story, rather than this distorted air-brushed version of the truth.”

Hicks’ ordeal began when he was captured in late 2001 by the Northern Alliance, the anti-Taliban group.  The Afghans turned Hicks over to the American military for a ransom of $5,000, according to his father. After being interrogated aboard the U.S.S. Peleliu, he was flown to Guantanamo, where he cooperated with interrogators.

The Australian government was content to let him stay there because whatever he was doing in Afghanistan, he had not violated any Australian laws, so he would have to be released if he were sent home.

When Hicks was first captured, Australian tabloids labeled him “Australia’s own Taliban.” But public opinion turned here, and support for David Hicks became the symbol, for conservatives and liberals, to express their opposition to the manner in which America was conducting the war on terror 2014 Guantanamo, secret prisons, torture and the lack of due process under the military commissions.

Prime Minister John Howard, the leader of the country’s center-right Liberal Party, and who coincidentally had been feted at a gala party at the Australian embassy in Washington two days before 9/11, was facing a tough re-election and appealed to President Bush and Vice President Cheney to bring Hicks to trial. The charges against Hicks were then reduced to the one count of material support for terrorism, and he pleaded guilty.

He was returned to Australia, served seven months in jail and then was released after a total of nearly six years behind bars. He has since married, lives in Sydney and works at odd jobs. He is currently on a job outside Sydney, beyond reliable cellphone service and thus not available for an interview, his Australian lawyer, Stephen Kenny, said in a telephone interview from his office in Adelaide. “We’re very please to see that they agree he is innocent, and the conviction cannot stand,” Mr. Kenny said.

In November 2013, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, in New York, and Joseph Margulies, a law professor who has represented several Guantanamo detainees in landmark cases, filed an appeal in Hicks’ case. They argued that Hicks’ guilty plea and conviction were not legally valid because material support for terrorism was not a crime under American law at the time Hicks was in Afghanistan, nor was it a war crime under international law.

Last July, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated the material support conviction of another Guantanamo detainee, Ali al-Bahlul. In light of that decision, United States v Bahlul, in November, the military review court hearing Hicks’ appeal asked the government and Hicks’ lawyers to specifically address the question of whether Hicks’ conviction should be affirmed.

In the seven-page brief responding to that question, the commission’s chief prosecutor argues first that the court should not hear Hicks’ appeal because he had pleaded guilty. Hicks’ lawyers argue the plea was coerced by the torture and brutal conditions under which Hicks was held at Guantanamo. They said his plea was irrelevant in any event because courts cannot accept a guilty plea to conduct that was not a crime at the time it occurred.

In his brief, the chief prosecutor acknowledges that if the court believes it has jurisdiction, it “should decline to affirm Hicks’s material-support conviction” in light of the appeals court ruling on Bahlul.

Hicks, 39, has maintained a low profile since his release. But at a human rights ceremony in Sydney last month, he heckled the country’s attorney general, George Brandis.

“Hey, my name is David Hicks,” he shouted as Brandis was speaking, the Guardian-Australia reported. “I was tortured for 5 1/2 years in Guantanamo Bay in the full knowledge of your party! What do you have to say?”

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Related reading:

CIA psychologists failed both scientific rigour and morality, by Laurence Alison, The Conversation

Verbatim: U.S. senators condemn CIA detention, interrorgation activities, by F&O

 ProPublica’s coverage of Guantanamo Bay. (You will leave Facts and Opinions’ site) ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up here for their newsletter.


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Torture unlawful and unhelpful: ACLU


Dmitry Borshch, Waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (Ink on paper, 24 x 28 inches, 2010)

Dmitry Borshch, Waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (ink on paper, 24 x 28 inches, 2010)

Marcellene Hearn, American Civil Liberties Union 
December, 2014

One of the most important takeaways from America’s Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report summary is that senior Central Intelligence Agency personnel — which the report refers to as CIA headquarters — knew from the very beginning that torture was unlawful and learned quickly that their brutal program was pointless.

Yet they told the interrogators to keep torturing.

In November, 2001, before the CIA had a single prisoner in its custody, its lawyers began researching potential legal defences to torture.

In July, 2002 its lawyers drafted a letter to the justice department seeking advance immunity from prosecution under the U.S. law that bans torture. 

The letter was never sent, but as John Sifton of Human Rights Watch has noted, it’s clear evidence that the CIA knew what it wanted to do was unlawful, and did it anyway.

Abu Zubaydah was the first victim of the CIA’s torture techniques.

Just days after his torture regimen began, in August, 2002, CIA personnel sent cables back to CIA Headquarters, in which they repeatedly said they thought it “highly unlikely” that Abu Zubaydah had the information headquarters sought.

Superiors at Langley told them to keep going.

CIA interrogators reported waterboarding sessions that left Abu Zubaydah “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” (A CIA email in August, 2002 said that even watching videos of the torture produced in the viewer “strong feelings of futility (and legality) [sic] of escalating or even maintaining the pressure.”)

Headquarters instructed the interrogators to keep going.

Abu Zubaydah would be subjected to the torture techniques for 20 days straight. He spent the equivalent of more than 11 days in a coffin-shaped box and was waterboarded 93 times. According to the Senate report, Zubaydah did not supply the information Langley said it wanted from the torture.

Yet the program was declared a success and expanded.

By early 2003, the CIA was making plans that called for detainees to be tortured basically upon arrival at a given CIA detention site.

For example, when the CIA decided to render Ramzi Bin al Shibh to its prison in Poland in February 2003, interrogators prepared for his arrival by drafting an interrogation plan that called for him to be shaved, stripped, and shackled “hand and foot with arms outstretched over his head” in a cold room – all before interrogators even met him and determined whether he was “cooperative,” to use the report’s term.

The author, Marcellene Hearn, is a lawyer whose ACLU assignment is the management of legal and policy challenges to torture and unlawful detention.

Marcellene Hearn is a lawyer whose ACLU assignment is management of legal and policy challenges to torture and unlawful detention.

Bin al Shibh was then subjected to torture techniques for an estimated 34 days straight.  When the interrogators cabled CIA headquarters that they did not believe Bin al Shibh had the information it sought, superiors told them to keep going, and so they did, for another three weeks.

The Bin al Shibh torture plan became the “template.” Six more detainees would be subjected to similar treatment before meeting with interrogators under similar “plans” approved by Langley. These plans typically didn’t specify what information the CIA thought the victim had. In short, despite the CIA’s assertion that its methods were necessary because its prisoners were withholding information – which wouldn’t justify its crimes anyway – actual withholding was clearly not a prerequisite for torture.

The report also reveals that over and over, with victim after victim, CIA headquarters told interrogators to keep going even when the interrogators assessed that the prisoner did not have the information the CIA sought, was “cooperating,” or might be permanently psychologically damaged.

This happened repeatedly with Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, who was rendered by the CIA in November, 2002 to the “Salt Pit” prison in Afghanistan, then to Thailand (where he was waterboarded three times), and then on to Poland in December, 2002.

After al-Nashiri arrived in Poland, interrogators cabled headquarters that al-Nashiri was not “withholding important threat information” and that if the CIA’s methods were resumed he might “suffer the sort of permanent mental harm prohibited by the statute.” 

Langley responded by sending an untrained interrogator to Poland who shackled Nashiri with “his hands affixed over his head” for 2 1/2 days, and threatened him by holding a gun near his head as well as by operating a power drill next to his body while he was blindfolded.

Then, in January, 2003, one of the CIA’s two torture-touting contract psychologists was sent out to Poland. “Dunbar,” code for Bruce Jessen, recommended another course of torture techniques – which headquarters approved – even after the chief interrogator warned that “continued enhanced methods may push [al-Nashiri] over the edge psychologically.”

Al-Nashiri would be held in Poland until June 2003 before being transferred to five more CIA prisons. On July 24, 2014, the European Court of Human Rights found that Poland was complicit in the CIA’s torture of al-Nashiri.

The report also details torture and secret detention seemingly unconnected to any intelligence purpose at all. The situation at the Salt Pit is emblematic, the prison where Gul Rahman was tortured to death in November 2002.

Prisoners at the Salt Pit were kept in the dark for 24 hours a day, in cells without heat in winter, with buckets for toilets. Senate staff found a photo of a “well-worn waterboard” at the Salt Pit, although the CIA has not admitted to waterboarding anyone there. The CIA could not explain the presence of the waterboard to Senate staff.

More than a year after Rahman’s death, CIA officials on the ground and back at headquarters knew shockingly little about who the CIA held in Afghanistan and why. In December 2003, an official would cable CIA headquarters:

“[W]e have made the unsettling discovery that we are holding a number of detainees about whom we know very little. The majority of [CIA] detainees in [Country _] have not been debriefed for months and, in some cases, for over a year . . . . In a few cases, there does not appear to be enough evidence to continue incarceration, and, if this is in fact the case, the detainees should be released”.

To this day, the CIA can’t account for everyone held at the Salt Pit. Their stories remain unknown.

We don’t know who at CIA headquarters approved the torture plans and told the interrogators to keep torturing, because their names are redacted in the report. A special prosecutor, however, should be able to figure it out.

© 2014, American Civil Liberties Union
Originally posted by the ACLU at aclu.org/blog/human-rights-national-security/what-did-cias-torture-program-have-do-intelligence-gathering-not

Read more:

The American Civil Liberties Union is championing five recommendations it says would “help ensure that the United States never tortures again.”

One of the five remedies would honour Americans who opposed the use of torture:

More of artist Dmitry Borshch’s grotesques are here:



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CIA psychologists failed both scientific rigour and morality

By Laurence Alison, University of Liverpool
December 10, 2014

During the War on Terror, the CIA’s operations subjected hundreds of suspected terrorists to harsh interrogation techniques, which were often criticised as constituting torture. Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the operation has made it clearer than ever that the CIA used many forms of “enhanced interrogation” to elicit information – very harsh methods indeed that simply did not yield the intended results.

American soldiers Charles Graner and Lynndie England posing with prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Grander and Lynndie were later court-martialled, and given jail terms. Photo via Wikipedia by U.S. military, public domain

Torture of prisoners by the CIA “is a matter of outrage for everyone, but as psychologists, we have a particular obligation to speak out,” writes Laurence Alison. Psychologists helped the CIA develop techniques of deprivation, humiliation, threats and repeated water boarding. Above, American soldiers Charles Graner and Lynndie England posing with prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Grander and Lynndie were later court-martialled, and given jail terms. Photo via Wikipedia by U.S. military, public domain

As a leaked State Department memo put it, the report “tells a story of which no American is proud”.

This is a matter of outrage for everyone, but as psychologists, we have a particular obligation to speak out. Many of the approaches the CIA used were developed by our discipline, and by individuals who will have known about the codes of conduct by which US psychologists are bound – which include beneficence and non-maleficence, and respect for rights, dignity and integrity.

It is profoundly disturbing to see that the CIA’s techniques included deprivation of basic needs (warmth, food, water), humiliation, threats and the repeated use of waterboarding.

Ironically, many of the methods adopted were based on psychologists’ previous work directed at training members of the military, intended to assist them in avoiding talking to interrogators should they be captured and tortured. This work was apparently reverse-engineered for use on terrorist suspects.

Although these techniques have been given the newspeakish euphemism “enhanced interrogation”, they are consciously meant as a powerful assault on the basic conditions necessary for mental survival, specifically by overloading the subject’s homeostatic system.

Homeostasis is the body’s ability to adjust in response to external changes in order to maintain a stable internal equilibrium. The objective of an extreme assault on a human system is to stop the individual from adjusting in time, or at all.

For example, we are built to respond to various complex stimuli throughout the course of any given day, and when the arousal system is subjected to severe sensory deprivation over long periods, it seeks to readjust.

If the deprivation is intense and persistent, the arousal system seeks to fill the gap. And in the process, it can fill the void created with psychotic symptoms: hallucinations, paranoia, hearing voices and a loss of a sense of a cohesive or continuous sense of self.

Several other methods are directed at overload rather than deprivation, such as threats, “feral treatment” (treating people like animals), pharmacological manipulation, and humiliation. These can induce similar psychological effects, and may result in severe short, medium and even long-term symptoms, including loss of memory and a damaged ability to learn, reason or make decisions.

In fact, such techniques can damage brain structures such as the hippocampus (one of the first regions to suffer in Alzheimer’s disease) and lead to the loss of brain mass by inhibiting the regeneration of brain cells.

So both from an ethical standpoint and going on the evidence of myriad studies of trauma, enhanced interrogations are both unlikely to work and manifestly objectionable. The psychologists involved in this work should clearly have known it was an incredibly dangerous path to tread.

If you really want to stage an effective interrogation, the literature points in entirely the opposite direction – and so does orthodox law enforcement practice.

In the US (as in many other countries), rapport is considered a vital part of police interrogation. Psychological research has long shown that building rapport with witnesses increases the amount of accurate information generated. We know that rapport enhances cooperation during interviews, and elicits more accurate information.

In our own work, based on hundreds of hours of observation of field interviews, we found that interrogators that used approaches more akin to methods used in therapy were more effective at both decreasing detainee disengagement (including “no comment” interviews) and eliciting useful information and evidence.

We found that where non-judgemental acceptance, empathy and autonomy were present, alongside the ability to fluidly adapt to the detainee’s topics and shifts in what they were prepared to talk about (or not talk about), reflective listening and attentiveness were by far the most successful approach.

In fact, interrogators who resisted the (perhaps natural) urge to try and change or challenge the detainee’s behaviours and beliefs engaged more with their suspects and got more information from them.

Our work on rapport is nothing new. More than 200 clinical trials, efficacy reviews, and meta-analyses have found more humane approaches to be effective in the treatment of a range of health problems once treated with harsh and coercive methods – issues as diverse as chronic mental disorder, cardiovascular rehabilitation, problem gambling, and substance use disorders.

In all those arenas, the original notion was that the “problem” needed to be dealt with through rational/persuasive and manipulative means that might persuade, coerce or control individuals “out” of their errant, criminal and destructive ways – essentially to bully them into compliance.

So a fundamental point stands: despite the ethical sanctions, the evidence is that enhanced interrogations just don’t work, and that rapport-based methods do.

It remains to be seen exactly why psychologists working today might have advocated, designed or implemented the methods described in the Senate report, but there can be no doubt that their complicity is a failure of both scientific rigour and morality. As the committee’s findings are picked over, and the political back-and-forth over them gets underway, this must not be forgotten.

The ConversationCreative Commons

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related work on F&O:

Verbatim: Senate report — CIA torture, misleading, and mismanagement , by F&O

Laurence Alison is the Director of the Centre for Critical and Major Incident Psychology at University of Liverpool.  Alison receives funding from the University of Texas El Paso subcontracted work of the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group , with the UTEP work under the direction of Dr Chris Meissner. The reviewer of this article, Michael Humann, is Training Director, Centre for Critical and Major Incident Psychology Research at University of Liverpool. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.



If you value our journalism, please help sustain us by buying a day pass or subscription. Facts and Opinions is an online journal of first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: choice journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.

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Report released on CIA torture

Iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq

The infamous image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq

Stark findings of torture and of the CIA misleading officials and the public are among the conclusions of a report released today by the outgoing Democrats on the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

As part of our Verbatim series, F&O provides a brief overview, selected excerpts, and links to the original report and other documents. An excerpt of Senate report on CIA torture, misleading, and mismanagement

From 2002 to 2007, America’s Central Intelligence Agency tortured prisoners to no avail; misled elected officials, journalists and the public; kept prisoners in conditions that led to their deaths, and “damaged the United States’ standing in the world.”

None of these allegations are new. Never before, though, have they come from the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which Tuesday released a set of official conclusions that can only be called damning.

The CIA acted in the context of the 9/11 terror attacks on the country, acknowledged committee chair Dianne Feinstein in her forward to the summary of the long-awaited report. But the context should not serve as an excuse, she said, “rather as a warning for the future   … continue reading Verbatim: Senate report on CIA torture, misleading, and mismanagement. 


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Verbatim: U.S. senators condemn CIA detention, interrorgation activities


 December, 2014


For six years after the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States, the country’s Central Intelligence Agency tortured prisoners;  misled American leaders and the American public; kept prisoners in conditions that led to their deaths, and “damaged the United States’ standing in the world.”

This iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, eventually commanded the cover of the Economist magazine.

This iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, eventually commanded the cover of the Economist magazine.

None of these allegations are new. Never before, though, have they come from American law-makers.

The U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, on Dec. 9,  released a set of official conclusions about CIA activities after the terror attacks that can only be called damning.

“It is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured,” said the committee’s chair, Dianne Feinstein, Dem-Calif. “I also believe that the conditions of confinement and the use of authorized and unauthorized interrogation and conditioning techniques were cruel, inhuman and degrading. I believe the evidence of this is overwhelming and incontrovertible.”

 The report was approved by the Senate committee in 2012. It was declassified and released by Democrats on the committee in what is effectively their 11th hour — Democrats will soon lose control of the the committee to Republicans. All but one of the Republicans on the committee, as well as former CIA and other officials, had objected to both the committee’s approval of the report in 2012, and to its release.

For the history of the report, we recommend ProPublica’s Timeline: The Tortured History of the Senate’s Torture Report.

Selected excerpts: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

#1: The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.

#2: The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.

The CIA represented to the White House, the National Security Council, the department of justice, the CIA Office of  [the] Inspector General,Congress and the public that the best measure of effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was examples of specific terrorist plots “thwarted” and specific terrorists captured as a result of the use of the techniques. The CIA used these examples to claim that its enhanced interrogation techniques were not only effective, but also necessary to acquire “otherwise unavailable” actionable intelligence that “saved lives.”

The committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques, and found them to be wrong in fundamental respects.

U.S. Senatore Diane Feinstein in 2011. Official photo

U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, Chair, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Official 2011 photo

#3: The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.

Beginning with the CIA’s first detainee, Abu Zubaydah, and continuing with numerous others, the CIA applied its enhanced interrogation techniques with significant repetition for days or weeks at a time. Interrogation techniques such as slaps and “wallings” (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity. Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an “an open, non- threatening approach,”^ or that interrogations began with the “least coercive technique possible”^ and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary.

The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah, for example, became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, fullmouth.'”^ Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammadas evolving into a “series of near drownings.”^

Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.

Contrary to CIA representations . . . , the CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah would take “precedence” over his medical care,^ resulting in the deterioration of a bullet wound Abu Zubaydah incurred during his capture. In at least two other cases, the CIA used its enhanced interrogation techniques despite warnings from CIA medical personnel that the techniques could exacerbate physical injuries. CIA medical personnel treated at least one detainee for swelling in order to allow the continued use of standing sleep deprivation.

At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. The CIA placed detainees in ice water “baths.” The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one . . . that he only leave in a coffin-shapedbox.^ . . . CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families — [including] threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.”

#4: The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policy-makers and others.

Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at [one] facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. . . .

At times, the detainees at [this facility] were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods . . . . Other times, the detainees . . . were subjected to what was described as a “rough takedown,” in which approximately five CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with . . . tape. The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.

Even after the conditions of confinement improved with the construction of new detention facilities, detainees were held in total isolation except when being interrogated or debriefed by CIA personnel. . . .

#5: The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the department of justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

#6: The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

#7: The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.

#8: The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other presidential agencies.

#9; The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of [the] Inspector General.

#10: The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

CIA director John Brennan, appointed long after the events, responded to the report by saying efforts by the agency and other American and foreign agencies’ prevented terrorist attacks, maintaining “countless lives have been saved and our Homeland is more secure.”</p>

John O. Brennan, Director, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency

John O. Brennan, Director, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Official photo

As part of the CIA’s global effort to dismantle al-Qa’ida and to prevent future terrorist attacks, the agency was directed by President Bush six days after 9/11 to carry out a program to detain terrorist suspects around the world. Certain detainees were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, which the department of uustice determined at the time to be lawful and which were duly authorized by the Bush administration. These techniques, which were last used by the CIA in December 2007, subsequently were prohibited by an Executive Order issued by President Obama when he took office in January 2009.

We acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes. The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected . . . terrorists. In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us. As an agency, we have learned from these mistakes, which is why my predecessors and I have implemented various remedial measures over the years to address institutional deficiencies.

. . . we part ways with the [Senate]  committee on some key points. Our review indicates that [enhanced interrogation techniques]. . . did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives. . . .

We also disagree with the Study’s characterization of how CIA briefed the program to Congress, various entities within the executive branch and the public. While we made mistakes, the record does not support the study’s inference that the agency systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the program. . . .

Amnesty International described the Senate report as “a stark reminder of the ongoing impunity for the many appalling human rights violations perpetrated in the name of ‘national
security.’ “

The [summary] provides more details of how the Central Intelligence Agency resorted to “waterboarding”, mock execution, sexual threats and other forms of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against detainees who had been forcibly disappeared. The acts were carried out during the rendition and secret detention programs that followed the crime against humanity committed on 11 September 2001 (9/11).

The summary report also provides some information of the effects of the interrogation techniques and detention conditions on the detainees themselves, including “hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation”.

“This report provides yet more damning detail of some of the human rights violations that were authorized by the highest authorities in the USA after 9/11. Despite much evidence having been in the public realm for years, no one has been brought to justice for authorizing or carrying out the acts in these CIA programmes,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director Amnesty International.

Limited US Department of Justice investigations into CIA interrogations were ended in 2012 without anyone being charged. Likewise the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogation sessions – containing possible evidence of crimes under international law – did not result in any charges.

Access to justice for those who endured abuses has been systematically blocked by US authorities, including on the grounds of state secrecy….

Excerpts of statement by Republican Senator John McCain:

Mr. President, I rise in support of the release – the long-delayed release – of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists. It is a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose – to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies – but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.

“I believe the American people have a right – indeed, a responsibility – to know what was done in their name; how these practices did or did not serve our interests; and how they comported with our most important values.

“I commend Chairman Feinstein and her staff for their diligence in seeking a truthful accounting of policies I hope we will never resort to again. I thank them for persevering against persistent opposition from many members of the intelligence community, from officials in two administrations, and from some of our colleagues.

“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.

“They must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret. They must be able to make informed judgments about whether those policies and the personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values; whether they served a greater good; or whether, as I believe, they stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.

“What were the policies? What was their purpose? Did they achieve it? Did they make us safer? Less safe? Or did they make no difference? What did they gain us? What did they cost us? The American people need the answers to these questions. Yes, some things must be kept from public disclosure to protect clandestine operations, sources and methods, but not the answers to these questions….

“I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture. Its use was shameful and unnecessary; and, contrary to assertions made by some of its defenders and as the Committee’s report makes clear, it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.

“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. Most of all, 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….

References and further reading:

The Senate report has been removed from the intelligence committee site, but its contents are discussed on the Stanford Library site: http://library.stanford.edu/blogs/stanford-libraries-blog/2014/12/official-senate-cia-torture-report (updated Dec. 2015)

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, summary.

CIA redacted response to the Senate study, June, 2013, redacted, and released Dec. 9: https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/index.html

CIA Fact Sheet response to the Senate study: https://www.cia.gov/news-information/press-releases-statements/2014-press-releases-statements/cia-fact-sheet-ssci-study-on-detention-interrogation-program.html

Amnesty International press release: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/usa-senate-summary-report-cia-detention-programme-must-not-be-end-story-2014-12-09

Senator John McCain’s floor statement in support of the report and its release.


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Verbatim: Canada court blocks Zahra Kazemi suit against Iran

October 10, 2014

A lawsuit against Iran by the son of journalist Zahra Kazemi, who died after an alleged beating, rape and torture in an Iranian prison, hit a wall Friday in Canada’s top court. 

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Kazemi’s son Stephan Hachemi could not sue Iran’s government and key officials for $17 million Canadian for his mother’s suffering and death, because they are protected under Canada’s State Immunity Act.

Kazemi was a freelance photojournalist born in Iran in 1948, educated at the University of Paris, and who emigrated to Canada. She retained her Iranian passport and was using it to travel in Iran at the time of her death.

Zahra Kazemi in 2003. File photo

Zahra Kazemi in 2003. File photo

Kazemi, who sold her work to magazines and a European photo agency, was detained outside Evin Prison in June, 2003 while taking photos of protesters. She died shortly afterward, on July 11, 2003, in Iran’s Baghiyyatollah al-Azam Military Hospital. Iran refused to ship her body to her son in Canada for burial.

The case sparked a diplomatic quarrel between Canada and Iran, intervention by Amnesty International and other human rights and press groups, and at one point the arrest by Iran of several Intelligence Ministry officials. The autumn after she died, an Iranian parliamentary commission reported that Kazemi had been under the jurisdiction of the Iranian judiciary when she was beaten. Iran’s official response to her death wrapped up in July, 2004, when an Iranian court acquitted intelligence agent Mohamed Reza Aqdam Ahmadi, on the grounds there was insufficient evidence, said the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Hachemi launched his suit in the province of Quebec in 2006, against  the Islamic Republic of Iran, its head of state, the Chief Public Prosecutor of Tehran and the former Deputy Chief of Intelligence of the prison where Kazemi died.

The case, Kazemi Estate v. Islamic Republic of Iran, took eight years to wind its way through Canada’s slow and complex court system.

Friday’s final Canadian ruling upholds a verdict by Quebec’s top court, which essentially ruled that because Kazemi was not injured in Canada, Canada’s State Immunity Act renders the defendants immune.

Six Supreme court justices agreed with the Quebec court; only one, Rosalie Abella, dissented. “The State Immunity Act is constitutional and prohibits civil law suit against a foreign country,” said the Supreme Court. The defendants “are immune from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts.”

Abella disagreed, writing in her lone dissent “They are not immune from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts and the claims against them should be allowed to proceed.”

The court referred the issue to Canada’s political system. “A foreign state and its functionaries cannot be sued in Canadian courts for acts of torture committed abroad. This conclusion does not, however, freeze state immunity in time. Parliament has the power and the capacity to change the current state of the law on exceptions to state immunity, just as it has done in the past,” said the majority.

– Deborah Jones

Excerpts of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling:

K, a Canadian citizen, visited Iran in 2003 as a freelance photographer and journalist. She was arrested, detained and interrogated by Iranian authorities. During her detention, she was beaten, sexually assaulted and tortured. She later died as the result of a brain injury sustained while in the custody of Iranian officials. Despite requests made by K’s son, H, that her remains be sent to Canada for burial, she was buried in Iran. Although a report commissioned by the Iranian government linked members of the judiciary and the Office of the Prosecutor to K’s torture, only one individual was tried. That person was acquitted following a trial marked by a lack of transparency. In short, it was impossible for K and her family to obtain justice in Iran.

In 2006, H instituted civil proceedings in Quebec seeking damages on behalf of himself and his mother’s estate against the Islamic Republic of Iran, its head of state, the Chief Public Prosecutor of Tehran and the former Deputy Chief of Intelligence of the prison where K was detained and tortured. H sought damages on behalf of K’s estate for her physical, psychological, and emotional pain and suffering as well as damages for the psychological and emotional prejudice that he sustained as the result of the loss of his mother. Both H and the estate also sought punitive damages. The Iranian defendants brought a motion in Quebec Superior Court to dismiss the action on the basis of state immunity….

…. At issue in this appeal is whether the Islamic Republic of Iran, its head of state and the individuals who allegedly detained, tortured and killed K in Iran are entitled to immunity by operation of the SIA . The resolution of that issue rests on the scope of the SIA , the impact that the evolution of international law since the SIA ’s adoption might have on its interpretation, and whether the Act is constitutional. An overarching question, which permeates almost all aspects of this appeal, is whether international law has created a mandatory universal civil jurisdiction in respect of claims of torture, which would require Canada to open its courts to the claims of victims of acts of torture that were committed abroad. Moreover, this Court is asked to determine whether torture may constitute an official act of a state and whether public officials having committed acts of torture can benefit from immunity.

…. State immunity is not solely a rule of international law, it also reflects domestic choices made for policy reasons, particularly in matters of international relations. Canada’s commitment to the universal prohibition of torture is strong. However, Parliament has made a choice to give priority to a foreign state’s immunity over civil redress for citizens who have been tortured abroad. That policy choice is not a comment about the evils of torture, but rather an indication of what principles Parliament has chosen to promote.

H seeks to avail himself of the “personal or bodily injury” exception to state immunity set out at s. 6 (a) of the SIA . If H’s psychological suffering is captured by the personal injury exception to state immunity set out at s. 6 (a), his claim would be allowed to proceed. However, when the words of s. 6 (a) are examined in conjunction with the purpose of the Act, it becomes apparent that the exception applies only where the tort causing the personal injury or death has occurred in Canada. It does not apply where the impugned events, or the tort causing the personal injury or death, did not take place in Canada. Accordingly, H’s claim is barred by the SIA because the alleged tort did not “occur in Canada”. His claim is also barred by the SIA on the further ground that the “personal or bodily injury” exception does not apply where the injury allegedly suffered by the plaintiff does not stem from a physical breach of personal integrity. Only when psychological distress manifests itself after a physical injury will the exception to state immunity be triggered. In the present case, H did not plead any kind of physical harm nor did he claim to have suffered an injury to his physical integrity…

…Parliament has given no indication whatsoever that Canadian courts are to deem torture an “unofficial act” and that a universal civil jurisdiction has been created allowing foreign officials to be sued in our courts. Creating this kind of jurisdiction would have potentially considerable impact on Canada’s international relations. This decision is to be made by Parliament, not the courts.

Further reading:

The Supreme Court of Canada ruling.  
Wikipedia page for Zahra Kazemi   
Committee to Protect Journalists page for Zahra Kazemi 
Reporters without Borders compiled releases about Zahra Kazemi 
Amnesty International page for Zahra Kazemi  



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