Thursday, January 3, 2008

Don't let them change the subject; the war goes on

That image, courtesy of the Defense Department, is just a reminder of what's happening on the other side of the world as we count the caucus votes in Iowa.

The caucus-eve New York Times reported:

Even though polls show that Iowa Democrats still consider the war in Iraq the top issue facing the country, the war is becoming a less defining issue among Democrats nationally, and it has moved to the back of the stage in the rush of campaign rallies, town hall meetings and speeches that are bringing the caucus competition to an end. Instead, candidates are being asked about, and are increasingly talking about, the mortgage crisis, rising gas costs, health care, immigration, the environment and taxes...

The campaigns are moving to recalibrate what they are saying amid signs of this changing backdrop; gone are the days when debates and television advertisements were filled with references to Iraq...

Part of the shift appears to stem from the reduction in violence in Iraq after President Bush’s decision to send more troops there last year. Mrs. Clinton, who once faced intense opposition from her party’s left over her vote to authorize the war, now is rarely pressed on it, though Democrats say it continues be a drag on her in this state. Senator John McCain, a strong proponent of increased troop levels, is off of the defensive and now positions himself as having been prescient about what would work to quell the violence.

“You see much more concern about the economy,” said Mark Penn, Mrs. Clinton’s chief strategist. “You see much more concern about health care. When we started it was principally concern about the war, and now it’s a mix of war, the economy and health care.”

Alex Castellanos, a senior strategist for Mr. Romney, said much the same thing was happening on the Republican side and suggested that it may have contributed to the success of Mike Huckabee, the Republican former governor of Arkansas...

We must not let them change the subject.

It's the war, stupid.

Most of the candidates would be happy to talk about something else. It was encouraging that DNC Chair Howard Dean mentioned the war at the top of the short list of issues where Democratic and Republican candidates are at odds. But someone should make sure to tell the candidates that.

That, my friends, is up to us.

As they continue the campaign and ask for your support, your help, your vote, and your money, remind them that getting out of Iraq is still a priority.

Challenge the candidates. Confront them. Put them on the spot. Make them uncomfortable. Keep the issue in front of the voters.

There may be a temporary reduction in violence in Iraq, but there is no exit strategy and not even a plan to begin withdrawing troops, except in the vaguest sort of way proposed by Gen. David Patraeus, who made it clear that could be revisited and changed at any time. A new assessment is planned in March. I suspect we'll learn that the general has been spending some time cuddling with Rosie Scenario.

Don't let them take the war off the table. Call it an occupation, if you prefer; I don't care what you call it, but when the military is killing people every day I tend to think of it as a war.

It's got to stop. We've got to stop it.

Need ideas? Iraq Moratorium #5 is in two weeks. You might start at that website.

Or do something else.

But do something.

We'll all feel better if you do.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

"Battlefield of the Mind": U.S. Behavioral Specialists to "Deprogram" Iraqi Prisoners

(Also posted at Invictus)

This article details how U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies organize counterinsurgency operations against Iraqi prisoners, now numbering in the tens of thousands. No matter how they label and package it, it's counterinsurgency operations that are being described. And it was the special place of "behavioral specialists" in this plan that caught my attention. So please pardon this prefatory diversion into the world of science politics.

Psychologists at the American Psychological Association (APA) have been fighting for their place at the governmental funding table for decades now. A good part of what passes for politics in the field of behavioral sciences concerns the contest between psychologists and their institutional rivals (psychiatrists, and other types of behavioral "specialists"), most recently over the spoils of the lavishly-funded post-9/11 "war on terror". The internal split within APA over how or if psychologists should participate in CIA "black site" interrogations, and other such collaboration with U.S. torture, has roiled that organization.

An article over at the Psi Chi website, originally written in 2000, rehashes the issue of masters-level training for psychologists (Psi Chi being the honor society for psychologists), noting, in passing:

..."The master's degree in psychology continues to be the subject of considerable controversy".... Trent's (1993) opening statement in a more recent article followed the same vein when he said, "When the topic of master's-level training in psychology is broached, controversy abounds ..." (p. 586) and, citing Woods (1971), that "... Wilhelm Wundt raised questions about subdoctoral training even as psychology was establishing itself as a scientific discipline" (p. 586).

The American Psychological Association (APA) does not actively discourage pursuing the master's degree. APA, instead, tends to ignore it. For example, whereas APA's publication Getting In: A Step-By-Step Plan for Gaining Admission to Graduate School (1993) does discuss some pros and cons of a master's degree, there are only two pages of text devoted to the topic in this 221-page book.

Even more recently, the school psychologists of APA's Division 16 were shocked to find that APA's hierarchy, in the course of rewriting their Model Licensure Act (designed to guide states in the drafting of legislation and policies related to psychological licensure), planned to strip master's level practitioners in educational settings of the "psychologist" label, even though they have held this distinction for decades now. (You can read Division 16's Oct. 2007 reply to APA here).

Bitva over Plennies (apologies to A. Burgess)

Why is this discussion about masters-level practitioners relevant here? Well, if you have a well-attuned sense of irony, then you can appreciate the bitter humor that lurks among the larger atrocity that is U.S. treatment of its Iraqi detainees, and the role of medical and behavioral professionals in assisting the military and the intelligence agencies in this crime. What follows is from a Dec. 23 article in the Washington Post, "Deprogramming" Iraqi Detainees, by Walter Pincus. Bold emphases are mine.
Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, the commanding general in charge of detainee operations in Iraq, is seeking reinforcements from a contractor as he continues to maneuver on what he has called "the battlefield of the mind" and win over the roughly 25,000 Iraqi prisoners under his control.

In a proposal put out for bid Dec. 15, the Joint Contracting Command is seeking a team of professionals, including "teachers, religious and behavioral science counselors," who will "execute a program that effectively reintegrates [into Iraqi society] detainees, particularly those disposed to violent, radical ideology through education and counseling," according to the statement of work.

Part of the program will involve small detainee groups, possibly led by an Iraqi cleric and a behavioral scientist, "undergoing enlightenment, deprogramming and de-radicalization sessions" for six weeks.

The U.S. is looking for a contractor -- are you listening Blackwater? Or CACI International? Or Titan? -- to assemble the team, to be led by an American with managerial experience, and a "secret" level security clearance. Besides some years experience analyzing Middle Eastern affairs, this team leader should hopefully have, in addition, a master's degree in psychology or behavioral science. Why is this? Let us wait and see.

The No. 2 in the group is to be a "lead analyst" who must also be a U.S. citizen, have a secret-level clearance and have management experience. This person must also have five years of background in intelligence gathering and interrogation.

Looking for a Few Good Brainwashers

The emphasis on intelligence gathering and interrogation belies the programs purpose as one of "deprogramming and de-radicalization". But it makes sense when you realize one of the main non-enlightenment purposes of the Team is assembling "comprehensive individual assessments" of juvenile and adult prisoners, which could be used to "enable prudent decision-making on release or continued detention of detainees."

The third person in the proposed "leadership team" is supposed to be an an Iraqi cleric or some other person with a formal Islamic education, and an Arabic-speaker, as they will serve as the front man -- I mean, the "lead trainer/counselor for the deprogramming and de-radicalization efforts." And to make sure the Islamic specialist doesn't get too far off the enlightenment path, he will be assisted "by a 'psychological enlightenment' specialist who must have a master's degree in behavioral science. This assistant has the privilege of interviewing

"radicalized detainees to collect information about their motivations and pathways to radicalization" in order to "identify openings for change."

If that weren't enough, this battle for the Iraqi mind will include Iraqi social workers, teachers, and a cleric counselor, not to mention a specialists in "juvenile psychological enlightenment" (with the requisite master's degree in behavioral science, naturally).

The New Thought Reform

It seems the U.S. government is going to try and reprogram Iraqi prisoners, including children, using the same level of expertise used at your typical U.S. public mental health service. And APA, who has sworn to work with the National Security government, as their best handmaidens, gets to see its precious jobs go to non-doctoral workers. APA, as an advocacy group for its membership, has long posited the special role doctoral-level psychologists can play in society at large, and for the military in particular. (See their 2006 book, Psychology in the Service of National Security, edited by A. David Mangelsdorff.) But, here's the U.S. government placing a major new initiative on detainees and interrogation in the hands of -- gasp -- non-doctoral behavioral "specialists".

That's the "irony" part. The more substantive point is that once again the U.S. government is going to use these behavioral "specialists" in a mass campaign of interrogation and "re-education", of the sort that was decried when the Chinese did it in the 1940s and 1950s. Robert Jay Lifton described it as "thought reform and the psychology of totalism". The CIA paid journalists to label it "brainwashing". Now, the U.S. wants to call it "deprogramming", "deradicalization", and even more sinisterly, "enlightenment." Major General Stone refers to it generically as "the battlefield of the mind", channelling perhaps British psychiatrist William Sargant's 1957 classic of interrogation "science", Battle for the Mind: A Physiology of Conversion and Brain-washing. The choice of words is likely coincidental, but isn't Maj. Gen. Stone looking for something like this, when he thinks of his new "team", deprogramming Iraqi detainees. Perhaps, like many religions, a "confession" will be involved. And Dr. Sargant happened to have a word or two to say about that battle over the mind:

To elicit confessions, one must try to create feelings of anxiety and guilt, and induce states of mental conflict if these are not already present. Even if the accused person is genuinely guilty, the normal functioning of his brain must be disturbed so that judgment becomes impaired. If possible he must be made to feel a preference for punishment -- especially if combined with a hope for salvation when it is over rather than a continuation of the mental tension already present, or now being induced by the examiner. (pp. 203-204, Malor Books, 1997)

Now, I ask any member of the Council of Representatives of the American Psychological Association, do you want masters-level psychologists taking on this level of work? Of course, the real question is, why would any organization of behavioral professionals even endorse the intent and goals of such abhorrent procedures as proposed by Sargant, or in whatever form the Marines' new counterinsurgency program is taking in Iraq today?

However you want to portray Maj. Gen. Stone's new "team" of behavioral specialists, interrogators, intelligence agents, social workers, and clerics, it represents a particularly sick form of imperialist intervention, and one that any mental health advocacy group, such as APA, should denounce forthwith, if it had any healthy bones left in its corrupted body.

Oh, and for those interested:

Bids for the three-year program must be submitted by Jan. 8. The contracting agency has capped the cost at $210 million, with a minimum offer of $5 million.

(H/T on this item goes to "skywriter". Thanks.)

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A resolution: Work to bring the troops home

A New Year’s resolution: To do what I can to end the Iraq war and occupation.

To do something, even if it’s something small, to try to accomplish something big.

It takes a leap of faith, in 2008, to believe that anything you do can make a difference. After nearly five years of being ignored by the Bush administration and the Congress, many are disillusioned and/or cynical.

But, for the most part, they are still planning to vote.

If you believe that your one vote will make a difference in this country’s direction, why wouldn’t you believe that your one voice against the war can also make a difference?

When I wrote recently about the Iraq Moratorium , some readers responded that protests are meaningless or even counterproductive.

Protests not your thing? Fine. Do something else. Contact a member of Congress. Help an antiwar candidate. Wear a button. Whatever. Let a million ideas and individual actions bloom. But do something.

That’s what’s attractive about the Iraq Moratorium, a national umbrella uniting people and groups who want to bring the troops home. There is no “one size fits all” philosophy. There are no rules. People are encouraged to do their own thing. But they are encouraged to do something, and, whatever it is, to do it on the Third Friday of every month.

The Iraq Moratorium website collects information about past and future actions across the country and makes it accessible so people can share ideas and tactics and support and inspire one another.

Since Moratorium #1 in September, there have been several hundred actions in about 30 states, ranging from simple vigils to rallies and marches challenging war profiteers. The next round is scheduled on Friday, Jan. 18, and organizers are beginning now to list their plans on the website.

But group actions are just a part of the Iraq Moratorium. Individuals can take part, too, by doing something on the Third Friday of every month, whether it’s wearing a button or armband to work or school, putting up a sign, writing a letter to the editor, or dozens of other possibilities.

It would be nice if folks would sign the simple pledge on the website:

I hereby make a commitment that on the Third Friday of each and every month, I will break my daily routine and take some action, by myself or with others, to end the War in Iraq.
But even that formality isn’t necessary.

All you need to do is do something, once a month.

The Pentagon and the war machine will operates 24/7/366 this Leap Year.

How about resolving to spend a small amount of time, once a month, to try to make a difference?

Happy New Year.

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Monday, December 31, 2007

What will you do in 2008?

(Cross posted from Gold Star Mom Speaks Out)

"Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph."

Haile Selassi

I'm not sure there are many, including members of the 110th Congress themselves, who are particularly happy with what was accomplished in Washington DC in 2007. There was much hope after the November 2006 election that we would see real changes in the direction our country was headed; there was hope, finally, for a beginning to the end of the occupation in Iraq. Sadly, we are no closer to getting our military out of Iraq now than in November 2006 or even March 2003. We hear that the presidential candidates are either planning to leave troops in Iraq for decades, as we have in Korea, or increase the number of troops there to restore order. Of the three Democratic candidates, Clinton, Obama and Edwards, none was willing to pledge that all combat forces in Iraq would be gone by the end of the next president's term in 2013.

What did you do in 2007 to end the war? Did you act? Did you contact your legislator? Did you write a letter to the editor? Did you pick up the phone? Did you participate in a rally or a protest? Or were your days filled with inaction?

Were you indifferent when you heard of our young men and women's souls were leaving this earth from the sands of Iraq? Were you affected by the death and displacement of so many Iraqi's who never asked that this fight be brought to their land? What did you do to stop the war/occupation? Did you think it isn't your problem? Did you think nothing you did would matter or did you just not care?

Were you silent about the injustice of this pointless and endless war? Were you silent when your voice could have been heard and counted? Were you silent because it was easier that way or did you just not care?

Did you do anything to have your voice heard protesting about the erosion of our privacy rights or did you go shopping? Did the millions of displaced, wounded or dead Iraqi's not bother you or did you think it would all go away if you put a magnetic yellow ribbon on your vehicle? You know better.

What have you done to honor the lives of our military, like my son, Lt Ken Ballard who was killed in Najaf, Iraq on 5.30.2004? 902 US military were killed and 5900 were wounded in 2007- what did you do to stop the casualties? What have you done to prevent one more flag covered casket from coming home?

The media will make a lot of noise about the presidential campaign in 2008. There may be so much noise that we hear no other news. But with a little effort, you can find many websites and news programs that dig deep, as well as skim the surface to make sure you have the news you need to be an informed citizen and voter.

You needn't get your news only from the so-called mainstream media. Try,,,,,, and Project Censored to start (there are dozens of other good sites that are easy enough to find). MSNBC's nightly show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann is another good source for authentic news. Mr Olbermann provides me with a sense of grounding; when I watch the show, I know it's not me who has lost my grasp of reality; the Bush administration has.

I'm not saying this is going to be easy, but your voice is important, and if you don't speak out, Washington can't hear you.

What will you do in 2008?

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US Army Admits Shooting Iraqi Civilians

The Headline:

U.S. soldiers shoot 4 Iraqi civilians, one killed

The punchy opening hook:

U.S. soldiers mistakenly shot four Iraqi civilians, killing one, during operations against al Qaeda militants, the U.S. military said on Tuesday.

The Story:

U.S. soldiers had detained a suspected al Qaeda fighter in Tarmiya, 30 km (20 miles) north of Baghdad, on Monday when they were approached by a car that did not obey an order to stop.

The readers eyes roll:

As if this is a rare news story. Doh!

The Google Results: approached car stop fired Iraq

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Security guards fire on Iraqi car

Security guards open fire on car, kill two Iraqis Oakland Tribune ...

U.S. soldiers attempted to warn the occupants of a car carrying a freed Italian journalist before troops opened fire, ...

ABC News: Pregnant Iraqi Woman Shot Near Security Checkpoint

Worldandnation: U.S. troops fire on car, killing 2 civilians (Jan. 2005)

A shooting after nightfall --
The car rolled to a stop. It was not the first time soldiers in Iraq have fired on vehicles driven by people who were either uncomprehending of the danger ...

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: AP - Middle East
In western Baghdad, an Iraqi police officer said an American patrol fired at a group of civilian cars as they approached a bridge, killing two people. ...

What Iraq's checkpoints are like |

I could go on, but there are over a million links.


The Head Shakes:



Reuters, U.S. soldiers shoot 4 Iraqi civilians, one killed, December 4, 2007.

Originally posted on GDAEman Blog.

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