Backtalk, December 31, 2007

The Shocking Stories of the Aid Workers Just Released From Gitmo

Andy Worthington’s fine article “The Shocking Stories of the Aid Workers Just Released From Gitmo” is just one more indication that there is a secret agenda, which has nothing to do with fighting terrorism, at Gitmo. As shocking as his account is, I have yet to see one that can top the following from “Fmr. Army Chaplain James Yee on the Abuse of Prisoners at Guantanamo,” on Democracy Now:

“The most traumatized detainees were kept in Delta block. It was equipped like the others, but its occupants seemed to constitute a psychiatric ward, rather than a prison block. The prisoners here were truly mentally disturbed. At any time, at least 20 prisoners were being held in Delta block. … [C]ameras were installed along the ceiling and in the back section. A few cages have been converted into a large office where nurses and guards watched the detainees from dozens of monitors. Inside their cages, the detainees exhibited a wide range of strange behaviors.

“Many of them acted like children. I’d stop to talk to them, and they would respond to me in a childlike voice, talking complete nonsense. Many of them would loudly sing childish songs, repeating the song over and over. Some would stand on top of their steel-frame beds and act out childishly, reminding me of the king of the mountain game I played with my brothers when we were young.

"Unlike those in the other blocks the prisoners here were allowed the privilege of paper and crayons. They would lie on the floor or on their beds drawing pictures. The nurses let them hang the pictures on their cage wall, and every cell was plastered in pastel drawings of animals, the guards, their cells and mosques. A mental health expert later explained to me that an adult who takes on the attributes of a child is suffering from regressive behavior. It affects people who have been so traumatized by prolonged stress that they lose the sense of themselves and revert to the mindset of a child."

Note that, although the psychologists had succeeded in reducing their captives to the admitted goal of “learned helplessness,” which is supposedly intended to facilitate interrogation, there’s no way they could have responded coherently even if they understood their questions. So, what IS going on at Gitmo?

~ Fred Corron

Andy Worthington replies:

Thanks for writing, Fred. You raise a good point about the mentally disturbed detainees, one which was backed up by Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, and Rhuhel Ahmed, the three detainees from the UK who were released in 2004. In a detailed account of their experiences, the three men estimated that at least a hundred detainees were “observably mentally ill as opposed to just depressed.” They added that the behavior of at least 50 of these prisoners were “so disturbed as to show that they are no longer capable of rational thought or behavior,” and that it was “something that only a small child or an animal might behave like.”

While you’re correct to question how it could possibly be that this demonstration of “learned helplessness” facilitated interrogation, as it was supposedly intended to do, I believe that these cases merely highlight how generally ineffective “learned helplessness” is for the purposes of interrogation. Even for less permanently damaged detainees, the obliteration of all sense of self, and, therefore, of all mental defenses, cannot be seen as a successful policy, because, as a form of torture (which it undoubtedly is), it only facilitates what torture routinely achieves: telling the interrogator whatever he wants to hear, regardless of whether or not it is the truth.

I note, however, that the most disturbing aspect of James Yee’s account is the sense that the psychiatric block ultimately has nothing to do with interrogation. Yee’s report instead summons up images of a high-tech version of Bedlam, or a high-tech version of a concentration camp, with these disturbed detainees reduced to experimental laboratory animals in a human zoo. Guantanamo appears, on one level, to be an illegal offshore prison devoted to the gathering of intelligence, but I believe that, in practice, it has functioned as a colossal psychological experiment, of which the psychiatric block is just one manifestation.

The Kook Factor

Hey, Justin, I liked your article. I am a Christian dispensationalist, but agree in part with what you are saying. I just think that you need to understand that the dispensational theory is only a system used for biblical study. It has no place in the modern world. In the New Testament it clearly states, in Acts, that the days of prophecy are over. So for these men that you mention to use modern events to fulfill biblical prophecy in fact goes against something specifically stated in the Bible, which makes it not dispensational (because taking the Bible word for word is part of dispensationalism)! I just thought this is a less angry way to get your point across; these men are false teachers, but it doesn’t mean the subject about which they teach is false.

God bless you.

~ Dave Cohen

Turkey: Another Ally Lost

Philip Giraldi has two factual errors in his recent article.

Point 1: Giraldi writes “The final blow to U.S.-Turkish relations came with the pointless Armenian genocide resolution, which sailed through the House of Representatives in early October 2007.”

In fact, a genocide resolution has never been brought before the full House. A resolution was only passed on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Secondly, Giraldi states that there was an “Israeli connection” to a genocide vote; in fact, there is no evidence the Israeli lobby in the U.S. has actively lobbied for Armenian genocide resolutions, and it is reported that the most powerful arms of the Israeli lobby, including AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League, have actively lobbied against Armenian genocide resolutions.

~ Mike Mejia

Philip Giraldi replies:


You are absolutely right that the bill never made it to the full House – I should have said the committee. It is not clear what would have happened if it had come up for vote in the full House, but it was widely assumed that it would pass easily – it had over 200 sponsors. When I was referring to the “Israeli connection,” I was referring to the Turkish perception, i.e., that Ankara expected that its good relationship with Israel would stop the congressional action. Turkey had heavily lobbied both Israel and American Jewish groups to that end. You are quite correct that American Jewish organizations have historically not supported Armenian genocide resolutions, though on this occasion they were very much divided over the issue.

Justifying the Iraq War: Why the NIE Is Wrong

Memo to Gordon Prather:

If it is legitimate for me to be armed, then it is legitimate for you to be armed. Any negation of that fundamental principle can exist only in a moral vacuum.

A nation that developed nuclear weapons over 50 years ago, and used two of them on innocent people, has no moral leg to stand on while telling other people what they may or may not develop.

If nuclear weapons had any legitimate military purpose, then why have they never been used again? What history has demonstrated is that nuclear weapons are essentially implements for inflicting political terrorism.

We bombed Vietnam under, and then we lost the war. Nor will you prevail from the air, even with nuclear weapons. Therefore, what we should have learned is that a moral nation need possess no such terrorist devices, and we should exhibit that lesson learned by getting rid of them.

~ Jack Dennon

The Solution to the Kosovo Problem

Very interesting, but nowhere in your piece do you question the legality of the West’s actions.

Presumably then you agree that the West should reward the Albanian terrorists for their campaign of terror against the Serbs in Kosovo, which has been going on for decades.

If the Albanians feel the need to live in an independent Albanian state there is one just across the border they can go to!

One thing you have just right is the cultural importance and historical importance of Kosovo: essentially, most Serbs believe there cannot be a Serbia without it – it will cease to exist.

That is why they will never accept the theft of this land – there is only so much humiliation that a people can take.

~ Nick Brajkovich, UK

Ivan Eland replies:

The international community is the one advocating stealing the Serb land. I’m advocating that they give critical parts of it back to the Serbs. This is not an anti-Serb position. The Serbs may not even get this. Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against them. I’m not condoning the U.S. attack on Serbia in 1999, but I think the situation on the ground requires some Serb compromise (as well as Kosovar Albanian compromise).

To Mr. Eland:

You stated in your article that 90 percent of Albanians live in Kosovo, which you call Kosovars. Albanians have their country – Albania.

You omitted to state why there is a Albanian majority which is the core of the problem. Compare in some aspects to Southern California’s influx of Mexicans. How easy is giving away somebody’s land to your friends. Who will protect the remaining Serbs there? The same occupiers of our land – who sit and watch the destruction of Serb cultural monuments and expulsion. The Serbs in Kosovo live inside of barbed wire today. Now, I wonder why the West is willing to give the Muslims their own country in the heart of Europe and not in their own land?

~ R. Vuckovic, formerly from Krajina

Ivan Eland replies:

Actually the U.S. stole California from Mexico in the first place.

I didn’t say that 90 percent of Albanians live in Kosovo. I said 90 percent of the population in Kosovo is Albanian. This hasn’t changed recently. I have some sympathy for the Serbs, who have always been blamed for things in the Balkans. But almost all the international community is against them on this issue. I’m saying that they should at least get some of Kosovo. The international community is saying they should get none of it. The Serbs will be lucky if they get what I advocate. It’s too bad, but it’s true.

Ivan Eland’s argument that Serbs can expect security in an independent Kosovo because they comprise too small a percentage of Kosovo’s population to be perceived as a security threat by the Albanians is dubious. If that were true, we would not have seen the anti-Serb violence that we saw in Kosovo during March of 2004.

Albanians don’t attack Serbs because they feel threatened by them, Albanians attack Serbs because they hate them – or more precisely because they hate anybody who isn’t an Albanian. Kosovo’s Roma and Gorani populations are even smaller than the Serbian population, yet they’ve been targeted by the Albanians right along with the Serbs.

Albanians have destroyed more than 200 Serbian churches and holy sites in Kosovo over the last eight years for the same reason that the Ku Klux Klan has targeted predominantly Black churches in the United States with arson – hate.

There is no reason to believe that Kosovo’s independence would be a magical panacea that would cure the Albanians of their ethnic intolerance.

~ Andy Wilcoxson

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