Guantanamo Psychologists, Heal Thyselves
November 17, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Previously undisclosed medical records and court filings involving Guantanamo Bay detainees have revealed yet another horror: some military interrogators used information from supposedly confidential medical records to devise “better” strategies for interrogations.
In Washington, any late disclosure by officialdom will usually contain material that is worse than most people ever suspected. But this latest one from Guantanamo, which (surprise!) was finally disclosed because of the relentless efforts of inmates’ defense lawyers, should shock the foundations of even the most cynical.
In a nutshell, if an inmate showed symptoms of mental illness (whether it was caused by interrogations or not), he was then seen by psychologist, who would jot down what weaknesses symptoms the inmate/patient was experiencing. Interrogators from the U.S. Southern Command, who told the therapists that their communications with patients were not confidential, would then access these records before the inmate’s next torture enhanced interrogation session. This is “using your words against you” on crack and steroids. The New York Times reports:
They regularly read patient records in the psychiatry ward, said Dr. Frances Stewart, a retired Navy captain and psychiatrist who treated detainees in 2003 and 2004. As a consequence, she said, “I tried to document just the things that really needed to be documented — things like ‘the patient has a headache; we treated it with Tylenol’ — not anything terribly sensitive. It was not a perfect solution, but it was probably the best solution I could come up with at the time.”
Dr. Kowalsky, a psychiatrist, said patients had begged him not to record their diagnoses. “They’re going to use that,” some detainees told him.
Dr. Kowalsky said he clashed with a BSCT psychologist, Diane Zierhoffer, who showed up in the psychiatric unit to look at patient records in 2004. (Dr. Zierhoffer, in an email, said her intent in accessing records had been to “ensure health care was not interfered with.”)
“We’re here to help people,” Dr. Kowalsky recalled once telling her.
“We’re here to protect our country,” he said she had responded, later asking: “Whose side are you on?”
Ah, Dr. Zierhoffer’s intent was to “ensure health care was not interfered with.” Well, a follow up question of “by whom?” may yield one of two responses. By the interrogators, or by other doctors who had yet to soil the Geneva Conventions and the Hippocratic Oath. In this sick, twisted nightmare of a penitential hellhole, even those therapists who stuck to their Hippocratic guns and refused to participate in this nefarious and torturous scheme were severely limited in their functions by the torturers at Guantanamo.
They were not allowed to ask their patients the most basic questions about how the interrogations went, or if they had been hit, whether referring to a session that occurred 6 months prior at an overseas CIA “black site” dungeon or the day before at the interviewing room next door. Interactions with patients were through small openings on cell doors, through interpreters, when they were available.
Their neighboring inmates who had a borderline command of English could sometimes make out what dark secrets were being disclosed. So, if you’re reading this as you wait your turn to talk about your “Trump anxiety” with your favorite shrink while sitting in that nice leather couch as Dido plays in the background, xe boy, do you have it good! Cheer up, comrade! All you’ve got to worry about (except the upcoming apocalypse), is your therapist discussing your deepest thoughts with a few of her closest colleagues during her next elite nice dinner party.
Back at Guantanamo in 2002, these torturers-cum-doctors, in our name and for shame, were part of the “Behavioral Science Consultation Team,” which advised the military on these interrogations, many of which were conducted by neophytes. Drs. Burney and Leso were privy (if not parties) to the torture of several of their fellow primates:
Dr. Burney said he and Dr. Leso took turns observing the questioning in 2002 of Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was accused of being an intended hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks and, it later emerged, had a history of psychosis. Among other things, he was menaced with military dogs, draped in women’s underwear, injected with intravenous fluids to make him urinate on himself, put on a leash and forced to bark like a dog, and interrogated for 18 to 20 hours at least 48 times, government investigators found.
Mr. Qahtani was led to believe that he might die if he did not cooperate, Dr. Burney said in a statement provided to the Senate committee. When Mr. Qahtani asked for a doctor to relieve psychological symptoms, the interrogators instead performed an exorcism for “jinns” — supernatural creatures that he believed caused his problems.
There were inmates who had a complete breakdown despite of and because of these goons’ medical “care” or “supervision.” Putting aside the fact that torture yields junk information that, at best, is “not all of it reliable,” and that this conduct further jeopardizes the treatment of American troops, it is nonetheless illegal. This disclosure about Guantanamo’s horror show is only the latest, with more to come as the years go by, while defense lawyers keep digging in our tribunals and courts.