A Tortured Twist on Ethics

Why isn’t the American Psychological Association pursuing ethics charges against psychologist John Leso for abuses he helped carry out at the Guantánamo prison?

— by Yosef Brody

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George Orwell wisely observed that our understanding of the past, and the meaning associated with it, directly influences the future. And as the unprecedented public feud between the CIA and Congress makes clear, there are still significant aspects of our recent history of state-sponsored torture that need examination before we put this national disgrace behind us.

Important questions remain unresolved about the U.S. torture program in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. And the four-year, $40 million Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture is unlikely to provide sufficient answers, even if it’s ever declassified and released.

APA Finds No Ethical Violations at Gitmo, a cartoon by Roy Eidelson

For example, what will be done about doctors who helped create U.S. torture programs and participated in their implementation? And is there any evidence that cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices continue under official policy, even to this day?

The question of whether American health professionals previously involved in military torture programs should be allowed to quietly and freely continue their careers came to a head recently when it was revealed that the American Psychological Association (APA)refused to pursue ethics charges against psychologist John Leso.

According to official and authoritative documents, Dr. Leso developed and helped carry out “enhanced interrogation” techniques at Guantánamo Bay in 2002. Importantly, the APA hasn’t disputed Leso’s role in the interrogation of detainee Mohammed al-Qahtani, an interrogation that included being hooded, leashed, and treated like a dog; sleep deprivation; sexual humiliation; prolonged exposure to cold; forced nudity; and sustained isolation.

In a subsequent investigation, Susan Crawford, a judge appointed by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, characterized this treatment of al-Qahtani as “life-threatening” and meeting the legal definition of “torture.”

Over almost seven years, the APA — whose leadership has nurtured strong connections with the military and intelligence establishment — never brought the case to its full Ethics Committee for review and resolution. In defending this decision a few weeks ago, the APA board released a statement explaining that a handful of top people with classified military access had determined that there was nothing unethical about Dr. Leso’s actions and that the case should be immediately closed.

What exactly is the interest of the leaders of the world’s largest professional association of psychologists in blocking investigation into torture? And should psychologists who participated in torture have this dark chapter of their careers wiped clean without censure?

Ethical imperatives to “do no harm” and sanctions for psychologists who break the rules — from sleeping with patients to insurance fraud to not informing research subjects of their rights — exist not only to protect the public but also to provide clear guidance to professionals faced with moral dilemmas. Yet when considering ethical complaints, the APA apparently takes involvement in torture less seriously than these other transgressions.

If such ethical parameters are effectively nullified, what kind of future might we expect?

Here’s an equally important question: Has U.S. torture really ended? While the Obama administration made an early display of banning some of the worst techniques that had been given the official seal of approval under Bush and Cheney, such as waterboarding, the Pentagon continues to engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices.

As the lawsuit brought this month by Guantánamo prisoner Emad Abdullah Hassan in federal court makes clear, the force-feeding of hunger strikers there is continuing despite a military blackout since December on the number of inmates engaged in that protest. Human rights and medical organizations have widely denounced this brutal practice.

Before U.S. psychologists and other Americans tell ourselves it’s time to put our history of torture behind us, we should take a hard look in the mirror.

What does it mean for our society to allow health professionals who have been involved with torture to subsequently practice with impunity? Like all civilized societies, we must reckon with past and present truths — if we want to be in control of our future.

Yosef Brody is a clinical psychologist and president-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility PsySR.org.  The cartoon by Roy Eidelson, APA Finds No Ethical Violations at Gitmo, a former PsySR president, is used by permission. Distributed via OtherWords.org

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These Laws Make Me Want to Gag

States are adopting laws meant to keep consumers in the dark about where their food comes from.

— by Will Potter

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Do you have a right to know where that steak on your plate came from?

Should it be legal to photograph chicken farms and dairy cows?

Big Agriculture says you don’t and it shouldn’t. Armies of Big Ag lobbyists are pushing for new state-level laws across the country to keep us all in the dark. Less restrictive versions have been law in some states since the 1980s, but the meat industry has ratcheted up a radical new campaign.

This wave of “ag-gag” bills would criminalize whistleblowers, investigators, and journalists who expose animal welfare abuses at factory farms and slaughterhouses. Ten states considered “ag-gag” bills last year, and Iowa, Missouri, and Utah approved them. Even more are soon to follow.

imageHad these laws been in force, the Humane Society might have been prosecuted for documenting repeated animal welfare and food safety violations at Hallmark/Westland, formerly the second-largest supplier of beef to the National School Lunch Program. Cows too sick to walk were being slaughtered and that meat was shipped to our schools, endangering our kids. The investigation led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

More recently in Wyoming, video footage showed workers at a Tyson supplier kicking live piglets and pummeling mother pigs. The film led to criminal charges against nine employees, including two managers. In Pennsylvania, an investigation of a major regional egg supplier, Kreider Farms, showed decomposing birds packed into cages among the living. Other hens had their heads stuck in cage wire and were left to die.

Big Ag wants to silence whistleblowers rather than clean up its act. Ag-gag bills are now pending in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, and New Hampshire. Similar legislation may crop up in North Carolina and Minnesota.

The bills aren’t identical, but they share common language — sometimes even word-for-word. Some criminalize anyone who even “records an image or sound” from a factory farm. Others mandate that witnesses report abuses within a few hours, which would make it impossible for whistleblowers to secure advice and protection, or for them to document a pattern of abuses.

Indiana’s version of this cookie-cutter legislation ominously begins with the statement that farmers have the right to “engage in agricultural operations free from the threat of terrorism and interference from unauthorized third persons.”

Yet these bills aren’t about violence or terrorism. They’re about truth-telling that’s bad for branding. For these corporations, a “terrorist” is anyone who threatens their profits by exposing inhumane practices that jeopardize consumer health.

It’s too early to tell how many of these bills stand a chance of passing. But ag-gag supporters have no shortage of wealth and political influence.

As a journalist, I’m worried about what these bills mean for freedom of the press. And the investigators and whistleblowers I have interviewed are deeply concerned about their own safety and freedom.

Ag-gag bills aren’t about silencing journalists and whistleblowers. They’re about curbing consumer access to information at a time when more and more Americans want to know where our food comes from and how it’s produced.

The problem for corporations is that when people have information, they act on it. During a recent ag-gag hearing in Indiana, one of the nation’s largest egg producers told lawmakers about a recent investigation. After an undercover video was posted online, 50 customers quickly called and stopped buying their eggs. An informed public is the biggest threat to business as usual.

An informed public is also the biggest threat to these ag-gag bills. In Wyoming, one of the bills has already failed. According to sponsors, it was abandoned in part because of negative publicity. By shining a light on these attempts, we can make sure that the rest fail as well, while protecting the right of consumers to know what they’re buying.


Will Potter is a journalist based in Washington, DC. He is the author of Green Is the New Red, which documents corporate attempts to silence environmental activists.
Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

Tell Me Again How Corps Have Our Best Interests at Heart and that Fracking is Good

Just as a fracking operation is starting up in Elko County, and … just as President Obama is getting ready to nominate a new Secretary of Energy to run the Department of Energy, a post on Truth-Out reminds us ‘why’ this appointment is so important.  The rumored name for the appointment just happens to be a proponent of fracking … so … if he were to be appointed, how likely do you believe it would be that regulatory action would be taken against Energy Corporations doing verifiable damage to our environment?  Here’s an excerpt, but please take a moment to click the link below and read the full article.

“Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial drilling technique that is facilitating an oil and gas boom in Ohio and nearby states. Fracking produces large quantities of chemical-laced waste fluids and mud.

Ben Lupo, owner of D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating, pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal felony charges under the Clean Water Act.

On the night of January 31, state investigators acted on an anonymous tip and caught Lupo’s employees dumping oil and gas drilling waste – fluid, mud and oil – into a storm sewer that empties into a tributary of the Mahoning River, according to the Justice Department …”

Read the full article here

Under the Reading Lamp — 4/3/2012

BANKING


When Bankers Rule the World

David Korten, Op-Ed: “The tell-all defection of Greg Smith, a former Goldman Sachs executive, provided an insider’s view of the moral corruption of the Wall Street banks that control of much of America’s economy and politics. Smith confirms what insightful observers have known for years: the business purpose of Wall Street bankers is to maximize their personal financial take without regard to the consequences for others.”


Fed Policy and Inflation Risk

Martin Feldstein, Op-Ed: “During the past four years, the United States Federal Reserve has added enormous liquidity to the US commercial banking system, and thus to the American economy. Many observers worry that this liquidity will lead in the future to a rapid increase in the volume of bank credit, causing a brisk rise in the money supply – and of the subsequent rate of inflation.”

CIVIL RIGHTS


Chris Hedges | Someone You Love: Coming to a Gulag Near You

Chris Hedges, Truthdig Op-Ed: “The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law by President Barack Obama last Dec. 31, puts into the hands of people with no discernible understanding of legitimate dissent the power to use the military to deny due process to all deemed to be terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers, and hold them indefinitely in military detention.”

ECONOMY


Robert Reich | Whose Recovery?

Robert Reich, Op-Ed: According to an analysis of tax returns by Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Pikkety, the top 1 percent pocketed 93 percent of the gains in 2010. 37 percent of the gains went to the top one-tenth of one percent. No one below the richest 10 percent saw any gain at all. In fact, most of the bottom 90 percent have lost ground. Their average adjusted gross income was $29,840 in 2010.


Desolation Row: Five Pictures of the Future in a Paul Ryan/Mitt Romney America

Richard (RJ) Eskow, Op-Ed: The Romney/Ryan America of tomorrow is more like the science-fiction worlds of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis than it is like the United States, as we know it. The privileged few would be even wealthier than they are today, while the rest of us struggle to survive in a dystonic world of disease, deprivation, and fear. That’s not lefty rhetoric, either. All you have to do is read the budget. What did Romney say about Ryan’s budget? “He is setting the right tone for finally getting spending and entitlements under control.”

ELECTION REFORM


Conservative Wisconsinites Call For Greater Transparency In Outside Election Spending

Scott Keyes, Video Report: With the election just two months away, outside spending groups are already scrambling to pour money into ads both for and against Walker. However, because of a quirk in Wisconsin campaign law, these groups can spend unlimited funds without disclosing where their money is coming from. ThinkProgress spoke with attendees last weekend at the Americans For Prosperity Defending the American Dream Summit in Milwaukee.

ENERGY


A New Energy Third World in North America?

Michael T. Klare, Op-Ed: Eager to escape ever-stronger environmental restrictions and dying oil fields at home, the energy giants were naturally drawn to the economically and environmentally wide-open producing areas of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America — the Third World — where oil deposits were plentiful, governments compliant, and environmental regulations few or nonexistent.


Steve Horn | Unpacking the Shale Gas LNG Export Boom

Steve Horn, News Analysis: “While the North American shale gas boom continues full-steam ahead, so too does another boom receiving less of the spotlight: the LNG export boom. LNG, shorthand for liquefied natural gas, is gas that’s been condensed into a liquid form by chilling it to approximately −162 °C (−260 °F). That gas is placed in LNG tankers, also known as ‘trains,’ then shipped off to lucrative global markets.”

ENVIRONMENTAL


Jim Hightower | Congress Opts to Keep Poisoning Children

Jim Hightower, Op-Ed: “Yes, we certainly need to cut unnecessary and frivolous federal spending, because…well, because it’s unnecessary and frivolous. So Congress has targeted unnecessary oil subsidies and frivolous tax giveaways to billionaires, right? Uh…no. Instead, our learned solons have chosen to whack the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.”


FDA Rejects Monumental BPA Ban

Mike Barrett, News Report: BPA has been shown to prompt hyperactivity and depression in young girls, while also being linked to breast cancer in more than 130 studies. Infertility and fertility defects are also caused by BPA exposure. The chemical is used so widely that it has been found in the urine of nearly 93 percent of Americans, with one study finding that eating canned soup can spike urinary bisphenol-A levels by 1,200 percent compared to fresh soup.


Anthony Gucciardi | BPA Makers to Gross $8 Billion Thanks to FDA Rejecting Ban

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: “Producers of toxic BPA are now boasting $8 billion in sales for 2012 thanks to the FDA rejecting a potential ban on the cancer-linked chemical on March 30th. According to GlobalData, manufacturers will produce 4.7 million metric tons of BPA this year to be dispersed into the daily lives of millions worldwide.”


Illegal Ocean Dumping Persists Despite DOJ Crackdown

Ronnie Greene, News Report: “Under federal and international law, ships must properly dispose of oily wastewater and sludge by passing the waste through an oil-water separator on board, or burning sludge in an incinerator. The ship’s crew must record each transfer or disposal in an ‘Oil Record Book.’ When dumping occurs in international waters, U.S. authorities cannot prosecute the actual pollution because it lies outside their jurisdiction.”


Extreme Weather is the New Normal

Stephen Leahy, News Analysis: “A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released Mar. 28, provides solid evidence that record-breaking weather events are increasing in number and becoming more extreme. And if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions are maintained, these events will reach dangerous new levels over the coming century.”


Anthony Gucciardi | Stealth GMOs Rapidly Consuming Global Food Supply

Anthony Gucciardi, News Analysis: “Obviously there is no room for GMOs in truly healthy food products, which is why it is truly vital that you understand the nature of GMOs and how they are oftentimes hidden in commercial food products. It may very well shock you to know just how prevalent GMOs are within the food supply. It’s truly amazing that modified products continue to go unlabeled despite being linked to organ damage — among a barrage of other conditions — in a prominent review of 19 studies.”

HEALTHCARE


The Best, Most Revealing Reporting on Our Healthcare System

Blair Hickman and Cora Currier, News Analysis: As we wait for the Supreme Court to issue its verdict on the health-care reform law, we rounded up some of the most revealing reporting on the issues. They’re grouped roughly into articles on high costs and those on insurance. The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters are some publications who have given their opinion on the subject matter.


Romney Would Lower Health Costs By Asking Patients To Pay More For Their Benefits

Igor Volsky, News Analysis: “Republicans like to claim that exposing people to the true cost of health care — that is, putting more skin in the game — would discourage overtutilizaiton of care and force health care beneficiaries to act more like consumers, shop around, and select the best deal for a given service or treatment. The theory sounds good, but there is very limited evidence that it actually works. After all, insurers have been shifting individuals into high-deductible plans for some time now, but premiums and prices continue to increase. ”

IDEOLOGY


Five Preposterous but Persistent Conservative Myths

Paul Buchheit , Op-Ed: “With the mainstream media in the hands of the mostly conservative wealthy, it’s difficult for average Americans to learn the truth about critical issues. The following five conservative claims are examples of mythical beliefs that fall apart in the presence of inconvenient facts.”


Koch-Funded Reason Institute Trivializes Severity of Bullying Young People Experience

Zack Ford, News Report: Despite acknowledging the technology young people have access to, he completely ignores the significant impact that cyberbullying now has on young people. Last year, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that nine out of ten have witnessed the cyberbullying of their peers. A similar Associated Press-MTV poll found that about half of young people regularly encounter discriminatory slang in their online communications, and 54 percent of them think it’s okay to use such language in their circle of friends because “I know we don’t mean it.”

INTERNET GAMBLING


Robert Reich | Turning America Into a Giant Casino

Robert Reich, Op-Ed: “Organized gambling is a scam. And it particularly preys upon people with lower incomes – who assume they can’t make it big any other way, who often find it hardest to assess the odds, and whose families can least afford to lose the money. Yet America is now opening the floodgates. Organized gambling is a scam. And it particularly preys upon people with lower incomes – who assume they can’t make it big any other way, who often find it hardest to assess the odds, and whose families can least afford to lose the money.”

SUPREME COURT


Robert Scheer | Five Hypocrites and One Bad Plan

Robert Scheer, Truthdig Op-Ed: “The Supreme Court is so full of it. The entire institution, as well as its sanctimonious judges themselves, reeks of a time-honored hypocrisy steeped in the arrogance that justice is served by unaccountable elitism. My problem is not with the Republicans who dominate the court questioning the obviously flawed individual mandate for the purchasing of private-sector health insurance but rather with their zeal to limit federal power only when it threatens to help the most vulnerable.”


Jokes from Justice Scalia Mask Grim Reality of American Health Care

Wendell Potter, News Analysis: “Since Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia clearly isn’t going to take the time to actually read the health care reform law before he decides whether or not it’s constitutional, maybe he and a couple of his buddies on the High Court can catch a screening of ‘The Hunger Games’, the movie about children battling each other to the death in a futuristic America, renamed Panem.”


Dean Baker | The Supreme Scream: Obamacare After the Court Ruling

Dean Baker, Op-Ed: “The conventional wisdom following the oral arguments before the Supreme Court last week is that, at the least, the health insurance mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act is going down. Many observers thought it likely that the Republican-controlled court would strike down the entire bill. Either way, it will be necessary to do some serious rethinking of health care policy.”


The Right’s Stealthy Coup

E.J. Dionne Jr., Op-Ed: “Last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments on health care were the most dramatic example of how radical tea partyism has displaced mainstream conservative thinking. It’s not just that the law’s individual mandate was, until very recently, a conservative idea. Even conservative legal analysts were insisting it was impossible to imagine the court declaring the health-care mandate unconstitutional, given its past decisions.”

Hold Justice Thomas Ethically Accountable

Here’s a copy of the letter I sent to Rep. Mark Amodei this morning:

One of the bedrock principles of our democracy is that nobody is above the law — not even Supreme Court justices like Clarence Thomas.

Justice Thomas, among other things, has flouted the law for years by failing to disclose his wife’s substantial income despite being legally required to report it. That’s why U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter has demanded that the Judicial Conference, an administrative arm of the court, uphold the Ethics in Government Act by referring Thomas’ apparent misdeeds to the Attorney General for further investigation.

Rep. Slaughter has also written a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is the presiding officer of the Judicial Conference, about this, and she has invited Americans to add their voice by co-signing that letter (which you can read below).

Dear Mr. Chief Justice:
We write you today in your capacity as Presiding Officer of the Judicial Conference. We call your attention to the letter sent to the Conference by members of the House of Representatives on September 29, 2011, requesting an investigation of possible violations by Justice Clarence Thomas of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.

Evidence that Justice Thomas failed for 13 years to accurately disclose his wife’s employment has been submitted to the Conference and we believe the Conference is required by law to refer the matter to the Department of Justice for further investigation.

In January, Common Cause and Alliance for Justice alerted the Judicial Conference to Justice Thomas’s repeated failure to make accurate financial disclosures as required under the Ethics Act. Justice Thomas then amended 21 years of his financial disclosure forms, explaining that he had, “misunderstood the reporting instructions.”

Since we sent our September 29 letter, important new information concerning this matter has come to our attention. Disclosure forms obtained by Common Cause and Alliance for Justice show that Justice Thomas accurately filed his financial disclosure forms, including his wife’s employment, for as many as 10 years beginning in 1987 when he was Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Justice Thomas continued to file accurate disclosure forms concerning his wife’s employment when he was a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He also accurately filed his financial disclosure forms regarding his wife’s employment for the first five years he was a Justice of the Supreme Court.

In 1997 however, Justice Thomas stopped disclosing his wife’s employment on his annual form, instead marking the box labeled “NONE,” to indicate his wife had no employment that year. Other public documents show that Justice Thomas’s wife was employed in 1997 by the Office of the U.S. House Majority Leader.

Justice Thomas continued to omit his wife’s employment from his disclosures for the next 12 years, marking the “NONE” box on his annual forms. Other publicly available documents indicate that Justice Thomas’s wife did have employment in every one of those twelve years. Her employers included the Office of the U.S. House Majority Leader, the Heritage Foundation and Hillsdale College.

Documents obtained by Common Cause and Alliance for Justice show that Justice Thomas’s wife earned over $1.6 million from these sources. We understand that Justice Thomas is not required to disclose those earnings but we include the number here to show that his wife’s earnings were very substantial and that their omission is unlikely to have been a mere oversight.

It is very difficult for Justice Thomas to make a credible argument that he understood the filing instructions for ten years but then misunderstood them for the next thirteen years.

Section 104(b) of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 requires the Judicial Conference to refer to the Attorney General any judge whom the Conference “has reasonable cause to believe has willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information required to be reported.”

We believe these facts easily establish reasonable cause, and as a result the Judicial Conference must refer this matter to the Attorney General for further investigation.

Sincerely,
Louise Slaughter

It’s inconceivable that a Supreme Court justice like Clarence Thomas would be unable to understand how to fill out the simple disclosure forms, especially since he accurately filled out the form for years before abruptly failing to do so.

Failure to disclose is a serious breach of the law, and the Ethics in Government Act requires the U.S. Judicial Conference to refer any judge to the Attorney General whom the Conference “has reasonable cause to believe has willfully failed to file a report or has willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information required to be reported.”

I applaud Rep. Slaughter for taking action to hold Justice Clarence Thomas accountable for his unethical behavior while a member of our Nation’s highest court. I’m writing to you to day to plead with you to stand with Rep. Slaughter in enforcing Section 104(b) of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and demand that the Judicial Conference refer Justice Thomas to the Attorney General and an investigation of his apparent unethical behavior.