Pentagon Threatens to Revoke Security Clearance of Navy Nurse Who Refused to Force-Feed Guantanamo Prisoners

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Despite a decision to not pursue charges, the Department of Defense has threatened to revoke the security clearance of a Navy nurse, who refused to force-feed prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Physicians for Human Rights condemned this news and called it “backdoor retaliation for his refusal to force-feed Guantánamo detainees on hunger strike.” The advocacy organization also noted that the nurse was recently given an ethics award by the American Nurses Association (ANA).

“The military’s latest action against the nurse is backdoor retaliation for refusing to take part in an unethical and criminal activity,” said Dr. Vincent Iacopino, PHR’s medical director. “Even as we speak, the American Nurses Association is honoring him with an ethics award for refusing to force-feed detainees. It is extraordinary that the military would punish the nurse for conduct that his profession recognizes as exemplary ethical behavior.”

In May, the Defense Department declined to push for the discharge of the nurse, who has yet to be identified. However, it was unclear when the Defense Department made this decision whether records related to his act of resistance would at some point be used against him by promotion boards or in security clearance reviews.

The nurse was not permitted to perform medical duties while he faced potential prosecution. He was assigned to “inconsequential administrative tasks,” according to his lawyer, Ron Meister.

ANA defended the nurse in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in October of last year.

“The ANA Code of Ethics for Nurses clearly supports the ethical right of a professional nurse to make an independent judgment about whether he or she should participate in this or any other such activity,” the ANA declared. “This right must be protected and exercised without concern for retaliation.”

A nurse’s primary commitment must be to the patient, and that means “acting to minimize or eliminate unwarranted, unwanted, or unnecessary medical treatment and patient suffering.” That is what the nurse did in this case.

The American Medical Association (AMA), which also has supported the nurse, condemned the Defense Department’s force-feeding of prisoners as a violation of “core ethical values of medicine” in a December letter [PDF].

“To ask physicians, nurses or other health care professionals to participate in forced feeding puts
professionals in an ethically untenable position,” the AMA stated. “Every competent patient has the right to refuse medical intervention, including life-sustaining interventions; every health care professional has an ethical responsibility to respect the patient’s decision in such situations.”

The nurse is someone, who has been in the Navy for 18 years, and sought to uphold ethical practices. He is the only known example of a conscientious objector to force-feeding of Guantanamo prisoners, which has been tortuously employed by military personnel.

If the nurse loses his security clearance, it could mean a potential discharged or even a loss of benefits. He may be severely limited in his ability to return to a job if he cannot work in a position considered to be “sensitive” by the Defense Department.

Revoking a government employee’s security clearance is a known tactic for silencing whistleblowers.

Removal from Guantanamo Bay and placement under investigation was punishment enough. It sent a message to other medical officers not to challenge the Pentagon over its unethical treatment of prisoners.

Unfortunately, the Defense Department finds it must protect itself from this nurse by revoking his security clearance because, if he is in any situation that may force him to fall back on his ethics, they know he will be on the side of the patient and not the Pentagon.

Judge: CIA, Pentagon May Still Neither Confirm Nor Deny Records Exist on US Citizens Killed by Drones

A federal judge has ruled the CIA and Defense Department (DOD) do not have to confirm or deny whether they have records on the “factual basis for the killing” of either Samir Khan or Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who were killed in two separate drone strikes in September and October of 2011.

In the same decision, which contained top secret information and was heavily redacted, Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District of New York also ordered the CIA, DOD and Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to disclose portions of documents with facts about US drone operations already “officially acknowledged.”

These facts include:

(1) US government uses drones for “targeted killings” overseas;

(2) DOD and CIA have an “intelligence interest in the use of drones to carry out targeted killings”;

(3) DOD and CIA have an “operational role in conducting targeted killings”;

(4) information about the legal basis (constitutional, statutory, common law, international law, and treaty law) for engaging in the targeted killings abroad, including specifically the targeted killing of a US national;

(5) US government carried out the “targeted killing” of Anwar al-Awlaki

(6) FBI was investigating Samir Khan’s involvement in jihad

The development was the latest in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in October 2011, which sought documents on the “targeted killings” of Anwar Al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan.

Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in a drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011. Weeks later, Abdulrahman was killed in a drone strike in Yemen on October 14.

In April 2014, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a January 2013 decision by the district court. The government was ordered to release a memo related to the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki. The memo was released in June. The same appeals court ruling additionally ordered the government to list documents and make a case for why each document should remain secret.

McMahon examined over 100 documents and determined the CIA had to release parts of three documents. The OLC had to release the parts of three documents and one full document. None of the documents the DOD was required to submit for review had to be disclosed.

McMahon allowed the government agencies to invoke attorney-client privilege and the deliberative process privilege for a number of the documents, which advocates for reform of FOIA have referred to as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption.

The CIA and Defense Department were permitted to continue to “stand on its Glomar” with respect to information on the drone strikes, which killed Khan and Abdulrahman. This means neither agency has to acknowledge to the ACLU that it has documents related to any decision to target and kill these individuals. (more…)

American Psychological Association Officials Protected National Security Psychologists Involved in Torture

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Screen shot of APA logo from APA’s website

A major review into the American Psychological Association and its role in torture carried out by the CIA or the Pentagon after the September 11th attacks has been completed. It shows that the organization colluded with President George W. Bush’s administration to loosen ethics guidelines, and officials in the organization were responsible for protecting national security psychologists from disciplinary action for their role in torturing detainees.

David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor who now works at Sidley Austin, examined allegations against APA after the publication of James Risen’s book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, which contained details of coordination between APA and US officials involved in the torture program.

APA describes itself as the “largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, with more than 122,500 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students as its members.”

The 542-page report [PDF], completed on July 2, is the result of a review of over 50,000 documents, “the most important of which were a very high volume of emails from the APA that remained from many years ago,” especially from 2004 and onward.

Over 200 interviews with 148 people were conducted. Just about everyone cooperated, however, Mel Gravitz, a prominent psychologist who worked as a contractor for the CIA and is nearly 90 years-old, declined to be interviewed. Bruce Bennett, a former 2002 APA task force member, refused to be interviewed for the review as well.

The review concludes, “Key APA officials, principally the APA Ethics Director joined and supported at times by other APA officials, colluded with important [Defense Department] officials to have APA issue loose, high-level ethical guidelines that did not constrain DOD in any greater fashion than existing DOD interrogation guidelines.”

“APA officials secretly collaborated with DOD officials to defeat efforts by the APA Council of Representatives to introduce and pass resolutions that would have definitively prohibited psychologists from participating in interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and other US detention centers abroad,” the review finds.

According to the review, APA officials wanted to “curry favor” because the DOD could confer “substantial benefits” on “psychology as a profession.” The APA also had an interest in relationships with the DOD working favorably so psychologists would be able to continue to be involved in intelligence operations. Plus, it was in APA’s interest to be able to portray the organization as “very engaged in the issue and very concerned about ethical issues” while at the same time fostering the growth of psychology through support of the military and operational psychologists.

It was also determined that current and former APA officials had “very substantial interactions with the CIA in the 2001 to 2004 time period, including on topics related to interrogations, and were motivated to curry favor with the CIA” in the same way they were motivated to curry favor with Defense Department officials.

One of the key benefits of a relationship with the CIA was that the agency would pay “tens of thousands of dollars for the expense of setting up conferences and reimbursing participants for their travel expenses, and these conferences allowed APA to showcase its relevance, visibility, and leadership on subjects of interest to psychology.”

“Building that relationship held the promise for more CIA-funded conferences and other join t projects in the future that might similarly highlight (or suggest) APA’s leadership and influence,” the report suggests.

The review also concludes the “handling of ethics complaints against prominent national security psychologists was handled in an improper fashion, in an attempt to protect these psychologists from censure.”

Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy organization which has conducted numerous investigations into the role of medical professionals in torture over the past decade, called for a “federal criminal probe” into the APA’s role in torture.

“As mental health professionals, our first obligation must be to our patients,” said Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz, psychiatrist and vice chair of the PHR board of directors. “The APA’s collusion with the government’s national security apparatus is one of the greatest scandals in US medical history. Immediate action must be taken to restore health professional ethics and to ensure this never happens again.” (more…)