In the first part of this series, I described the torture of Jose Padilla, and started to try to explain it. I began by describing the "mosaic theory" of intelligence gathering, according to which one should try to collect little bits of intelligence and fit them together into a bigger picture. In the second part, I described the KUBARK manual, a 1963 CIA handbook that has been described as the 'Bible of interrogation', and argued that the techniques of interrogation it recommends have been used on Padilla and others.
The KUBARK manual recommends that interrogators first try to produce 'regression' in detainees, and then provide a rationalization that will allow them to escape by cooperating. The manual describes interrogations that have a clear endpoint: the subject cooperates. In my last post, I argued that since 9/11, interrogation has been freed from the constraints that normally circumscribe it: the legal system in the US, and the difficulty of holding detainees for long periods of time abroad. Under these conditions, merging the KUBARK approach to interrogation with the mosaic theory will produce an effort to induce more and more regression, without any clear end at all. In this post I want to try to explain what this means. Specifically, I want to argue for the following thesis:
That our government designed a system of interrogation whose express purpose was to inflict serious psychological damage on people we were interrogating.
Think about that.
Moreover: since this was a CIA manual, the people the CIA was trying to drive insane would have been kidnapped, not arrested and convicted. Therefore, as Publius notes, they might, for all we know, be completely innocent. (Especially since this was during the period when the very same CIA was hatching plans to kill Fidel Castro with an exploding conch shell, and to give him a diving suit "infected with a fungus that would cause a chronic and debilitating skin disease." Hardly their soberest moment.)
Anyways: let's start with the term 'regression'.
'Regression' is a psychoanalytic term meaning a return to an earlier, more childlike or infantile, state. Some versions of regression are benign. For instance: while I take normal colds and flu in stride, when I get really, really sick I find myself thinking: I want my Mommy! And this isn't just because I love her, and she's great to talk to, and all that. No: it's because I want her to come padding up the stairs and bring me saltines and ginger ale and make everything all better. It doesn't matter that I know that my Mom, however wonderful, can't make everything all better. I have regressed to a more childlike state, and all that is completely irrelevant.
This harmless state of mind is not what the KUBARK manual says that interrogators should try to induce, however. Here's how the KUBARK manual describes the regression it aims at (sec. VII.A.7, emphasis added):
"Obviously, many resistant subjects of counterintelligence interrogation cannot be brought to cooperation, or even to compliance, merely through pressures which they generate within themselves or through the unreinforced effect of the interrogation situation. Manipulative techniques - still keyed to the individual but brought to bear upon him from outside himself - then become necessary. It is a fundamental hypothesis of this handbook that these techniques, which can succeed even with highly resistant sources, are in essence methods of inducing regression of the personality to whatever earlier and weaker level is required for the dissolution of resistance and the inculcation of dependence. All of the techniques employed to break through an interrogation roadblock, the entire spectrum from simple isolation to hypnosis and narcosis, are essentially ways of speeding up the process of regression. As the interrogatee slips back from maturity toward a more infantile state, his learned or structured personality traits fall away in a reversed chronological order, so that the characteristics most recently acquired - which are also the characteristics drawn upon by the interrogatee in his own defense - are the first to go. As Gill and Brenman have pointed out, regression is basically a loss of autonomy."
And (sec. IX.B):
"All coercive techniques are designed to induce regression. As Hinkle notes in "The Physiological State of the Interrogation Subject as it Affects Brain Function"(7), the result of external pressures of sufficient intensity is the loss of those defenses most recently acquired by civilized man: "... the capacity to carry out the highest creative activities, to meet new, challenging, and complex situations, to deal with trying interpersonal relations, and to cope with repeated frustrations. Relatively small degrees of homeostatic derangement, fatigue, pain, sleep loss, or anxiety may impair these functions." As a result, "most people who are exposed to coercive procedures will talk and usually reveal some information that they might not have revealed otherwise." (...)
Farber says that the response to coercion typically contains "... at least three important elements: debility, dependency, and dread." Prisoners "... have reduced viability, are helplessly dependent on their captors for the satisfaction of their many basic needs, and experience the emotional and motivational reactions of intense fear and anxiety.... Among the [American] POW's pressured by the Chinese Communists, the DDD syndrome in its full-blown form constituted a state of discomfort that was well-nigh intolerable." (11). If the debility-dependency-dread state is unduly prolonged, however, the arrestee may sink into a defensive apathy from which it is hard to arouse him."
(The CIA seems to have liked the 'debility, dependency, and dread' formulation so much that in their 1983 manual (pdf, secs. L 3-5), they divided up all coercive techniques into these three groups.)
In any case, what KUBARK interrogation aims at is to induce regression to the point at which the subject can no longer resist. Or, in layman's language: to smash someone's identity and character into tiny bits, leaving that person literally helpless and unable to hold out against the interrogator. This is, quite literally, a manual on how to drive people crazy.
The techniques described in the KUBARK manual grew out of Cold War experiments in psychology prompted by the fear that the USSR and China had developed techniques of mind control. (Many were part of the MK-ULTRA program in which, among other things, the CIA experimented with LSD on unsuspecting people.) The resulting techniques involve a combination of several features, which I will discuss separately.
(1) Sensory Deprivation: Here's a description of some of the sensory deprivation experiments of the 1950s and early 60s:
"In the deepest darkest days of the Cold War initially as a defensive move, the CIA launched a massive mind control project to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan project of the mind with research expenses reaching up to $1 billion a year at peak in the 1950s and the first breakthrough in this massive project came at McGill University. It was actually a joint Canadian, British, US effort, top-secret effort, and Dr Donald O. Hebb at McGill University found that he could induce a state akin to psychosis in a subject within 48 hours. Now, what had the doctor done? Hypnosis, electroshock, LSD, drugs? No. None of the above. All Dr Hebb did was take student volunteers at McGill University where he was head of Psychology, put them in comfortable airconditioned cubicles and put goggles, gloves and ear muffs on them. In 24 hours the hallucinations started. In 48 hours they suffered a complete breakdown. Dr Hebb noted they suffered a disintegration of personality. Just goggles, gloves and ear muffs and this discovered the foundation, or the key technique which has been applied under extreme conditions at Guantanamo. The technique of sensory disorientation. I've tracked down some of the original subjects in Dr Hebb's experiments of 1952 and men now in their 70s still suffer psychological damage from just two days of isolation with goggles, gloves and ear muffs."
And here's another (pdf):
"In these studies (Brownfield, 1965; Solomon, et al., 1961), subjects were placed in a situation designed to maximally reduce perceptually informative external stimuli (e.g., light-proof, soundproof rooms, cardboard tubes surrounding the arms and hands to reduce proprioceptive and tactile sensation, and so on). The research revealed that characteristic symptoms generally developed in such settings. These symptoms included perceptual distortions and illusions in multiple spheres, vivid fantasies, often accompanied by strikingly vivid hallucinations in multiple spheres, derealization experiences, and hyperresponsivity to external stimuli. What was also clear, however, was that while some subjects tolerated such experiences well, many did not, and a characteristic syndrome was observed, including not only the above symptoms, but also included cognitive impairment, massive free-floating anxiety, extreme motor restlessness, emergence of primitive aggressive fantasies which were often accompanied by fearful hallucinations, and with decreasing capacity to maintain an observing, reality-testing ego function. In some cases, an overt psychosis supervened with persecutory delusions and, in some cases, a marked dissociative, catatoniclike stupor (delirium) with mutism developed. EEG recordings confirmed the presence of abnormalities typical of stupor and delirium."
And here, finally, is the Kubark manual describing these experiments:
"Drs. Wexler, Mendelson, Leiderman, and Solomon conducted a somewhat similar experiment on seventeen paid volunteers. These subjects were "... placed in a tank-type respirator with a specially built mattress.... The vents of the respirator were left open, so that the subject breathed for himself. His arms and legs were enclosed in comfortable but rigid cylinders to inhibit movement and tactile contact. The subject lay on his back and was unable to see any part of his body. The motor of the respirator was run constantly, producing a dull, repetitive auditory stimulus. The room admitted no natural light, and artificial light was minimal and constant." (42) Although the established time limit was 36 hours and though all physical needs were taken care of, only 6 of the 17 completed the stint. The other eleven soon asked for release. Four of these terminated the experiment because of anxiety and panic; seven did so because of physical discomfort. The results confirmed earlier findings that (1) the deprivation of sensory stimuli induces stress; (2) the stress becomes unbearable for most subjects; (3) the subject has a growing need for physical and social stimuli; and (4) some subjects progressively lose touch with reality, focus inwardly, and produce delusions, hallucinations, and other pathological effects. (...)
These findings suggest - but by no means prove - the following theories about solitary confinement and isolation:
1. The more completely the place of confinement eliminates sensory stimuli, the more rapidly and deeply will the interrogatee be affected. Results produced only after weeks or months of imprisonment in an ordinary cell can be duplicated in hours or days in a cell which has no light (or weak artificial light which never varies), which is sound-proofed, in which odors are eliminated, etc. An environment still more subject to control, such as water-tank or iron lung, is even more effective.
2. An early effect of such an environment is anxiety. How soon it appears and how strong it is depends upon the psychological characteristics of the individual.
3. The interrogator can benefit from the subject's anxiety. As the interrogator becomes linked in the subject's mind with the reward of lessened anxiety, human contact, and meaningful activity, and thus with providing relief for growing discomfort, the questioner assumes a benevolent role. (7)
4. The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject's mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure. The result, normally, is a strengthening of the subject's tendencies toward compliance."
Massive amounts of fear, anxiety, and stress were extremely common among subjects in the sensory deprivation experiments, as were hallucinations. (Half of the subjects in the study described above had visual hallucinations, and that study only lasted for 36 hours.) Most of the sensory deprivation experiments from this period that I've been able to track down report experimentally induced psychosis.
These were, basically, experiments that drove people crazy, and the authors of the KUBARK manual knew it.
(2) Solitary Confinement/Isolation: Here's a description of Cold War studies of the effects of isolation (pdf, p. 27):
"As noted in the body of this declaration, in the 1950's the U.S. Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency sponsored a great deal of research on these issues; Hinkle and Wolff (1956) published results of extensive research done by them for the Department of Defense. The paper documented interrogation techniques of the Soviet KGB in regard to the incarceration of political prisoners, and the Chinese communists' imprisonment of American prisoners of war in Korea.
The report indicated that the KGB operated detention prisons, many of which were "modern . . . well built and spotlessly clean . . . (with) attached medical facilities and rooms for the care of sick detainees. An exercise yard is a standard facility. Incarceration in these prisons is almost universally in solitary confinement in a cell approximately 10' x 6' in size. An almost invariable feature of the management of any important suspect under detention is a period of total isolation in a detention cell." (p. 126)
This isolation was seen as a central feature of the imprisonment:
"The effects upon prisoners of the regimen in the isolation cell are striking.... A major aspect of this prison experience is isolation. ... (In the cells) his internal as well as external life is disrupted (and) ... he develops a predictable group of symptoms, which might almost be called 'disease syndrome.'"
This syndrome develops over time:
"He becomes increasingly anxious and restless and his sleep is disturbed ... The period of anxiety, hyperactivity, and apparent adjustment to the isolation routine usually continues from 1 to 3 weeks. ... The prisoner becomes increasingly dejected and dependent. He gradually gives up all spontaneous activity within his cell and ceases to care about personal appearance and actions. Finally, he sits and stares with a vacant expression, perhaps endlessly twisting a button on his coat. He allows himself to become dirty and disheveled. ... He goes through the motions of his prison routine automatically, as if he were in a daze. ... Ultimately, he seems to lose many of the restraints of ordinary behavior. He may soil himself; he weeps; he mutters. ... It usually takes from 4 to 6 weeks to produce this phenomenon in a newly imprisoned man. ... His sleep is disturbed by nightmares. Ultimately he may reach a state of depression in which he ceases to care about his personal appearance and behavior and pays very little attention to his surroundings. In this state the prisoner may have illusory experiences. A distant sound in the corridor sounds like someone calling his name. The rattle of a footstep may be interpreted as a key in the lock opening the cell. Some prisoners may become delirious and have visual hallucinations.
Not all men who first experience total isolation react in precisely this manner. In some, the symptoms are less conspicuous. In others, dejection and other despondence earlier, or later. Still others, and especially those with preexisting personality disturbances, may become frankly psychotic." (p. 129)"
Since this research was done for the CIA and DoD, I assume it was known to the authors of the KUBARK manual. (The manual shows a lot of familiarity with research in the behavioral sciences.) If the CIA has kept up with the research, as I assume it has, it would have to be aware that the evidence that isolation has horrible psychological effects has only gotten stronger and more detailed over time. According to Stuart Grassian (pdf, p. 3ff), who has written some of the standard studies, solitary confinement produces a standard syndrome, whose symptoms include:
* Hyperresponsivity to external stimuli
* Perceptual distortions, delusions, and hallucinations ("Almost a third of the prisoners described hearing voices, often in whispers, often saying frightening things to them. There were also reports of noises taking on increasing meaning and frightening significance. For example, "I hear noises, can't identify them -- starts to sound like sticks beating men, but I'm pretty sure no one is being beaten . . . I'm not sure." These perceptual changes at times became more complex and personalized: "They come by with four trays; the first has big pancakes. I think I am going to get them. Then someone comes up and gives me tiny ones -- they get real small, like silver dollars. I seem to see movements -- real fast motions in front of me. Then seems like they are doing things behind your back -- can't quite see them. Did someone just hit me? I dwell on it for hours.")
* Panic attacks
* Difficulties with thinking, concentration, and memory
* Intrusive obsessional thoughts: emergence of primitive aggressive ruminations
* Overt paranoia ("Almost half the prisoners interviewed reported paranoid and persecutory fears. Some of these persecutory fears were short of overt psychotic disorganization. For example: "Sometimes get paranoid -- think they meant something else. Like a remark about Italians. Dwell on it for hours. Get frantic. Like when they push buttons on the sink. Think they did it just to annoy me." In other cases this paranoia deteriorated into overt psychosis: "Spaced out. Hear singing, people's voices, 'Cut your wrists and go to Bridgewater and the Celtics are playing tonight.' I doubt myself. Is it real? . . . I suspect they are putting drugs in my food, they are putting drugs in my cell . . . The Reverend, the priest -- even you -- you're all in cahoots in the Scared Straight Program.")
* Problems with impulse control ("Slightly less than half of the prisoners reported episodes of loss of impulse control with random violence:
"I snap off the handle over absolutely nothing. Have torn up mail and pictures, throw things around. Try to control it. Know it only hurts myself." Several of these prisoners reported impulsive self-mutilation; "I cut my wrists many times in isolation. Now it seems crazy. But every time I did it, I wasn't thinking -- lost control -- cut myself without knowing what I was doing.")
This has also been studied in Supermax prisons, where the study I just linked to found horrible psychiatric problems at much greater rates than in the general population. Whereas 1.7% of the general population has hallucinations, for instance, 41% of the Supermax prisoners studied do. Many of the same symptoms appear even in much more benign settings -- there is, apparently, such a thing as ICU syndrome, for instance.
And isolation has horrible long-term consequences. Grassian again:
"Long-term studies of veterans of P.O.W. camps and of kidnapping and hostage situations have demonstrated that while many of the acute symptoms I outlined above tend to subside after release from confinement, there are also long-term effects which may persist for decades. These not only include persistent symptoms of post traumatic stress (such as flashbacks, chronic hypervigilance, and a pervasive sense of hopelessness), but also lasting personality changes -- especially including a continuing pattern of intolerance of social interaction, leaving the individual socially impoverished and withdrawn, subtly angry and fearful when forced into social interaction. (This literature is reviewed in Appendix D to this declaration.)
In addition, from time to time I have had the opportunity to evaluate individuals who had been incarcerated in solitary confinement several years previously; I have found the same pattern of personality change described above -- these individuals had become strikingly socially impoverished and experienced intense irritation with social interaction, patterns dramatically different from their functioning prior to solitary confinement."
(3): Stress Positions:
"During the 1950s as well, two eminent neurologists at Cornell Medical Center working for the CIA found that the KGB’s most devastating torture technique involved, not crude physical beatings, but simply forcing the victim to stand for days at time—while the legs swelled, the skin erupted in suppurating lesions, the kidneys shut down, hallucinations began. Again, it you look at those hundreds of photos from Abu Ghraib you will see repeated use of this method, now called “stress positions.”"
In the KUBARK manual, stress positions were not designed to drive people crazy; just to add to detainees' debility, and to provoke additional psychological conflicts within them, since the pain produced by stress positions was in some sense self-inflicted. From the KUBARK manual (IX.H):
"It has been plausibly suggested that, whereas pain inflicted on a person from outside himself may actually focus or intensify his will to resist, his resistance is likelier to be sapped by pain which he seems to inflict upon himself. "In the simple torture situation the contest is one between the individual and his tormentor (.... and he can frequently endure). When the individual is told to stand at attention for long periods, an intervening factor is introduced. The immediate source of pain is not the interrogator but the victim himself. The motivational strength of the individual is likely to exhaust itself in this internal encounter.... As long as the subject remains standing, he is attributing to his captor the power to do something worse to him, but there is actually no showdown of the ability of the interrogator to do so." (4)"
(4): Disorientation: Curiously, I haven't been able to find any Cold War research on the effects of a systematic effort to disorient people: to do what the KUBARK manual describes in Sec. VIII.A:
"If the interrogatee is under detention, the interrogator can also manipulate his environment. Merely by cutting off all other human contacts, "the interrogator monopolizes the social environment of the source."(3) He exercises the powers of an all-powerful parent, determining when the source will be sent to bed, when and what he will eat, whether he will be rewarded for good behavior or punished for being bad. The interrogator can and does make the subject's world not only unlike the world to which he had been accustomed but also strange in itself - a world in which familiar patterns of time, space, and sensory perception are overthrown."
"Some interrogatees can be regressed by persistent manipulation of time, by retarding and advancing clocks and serving meals at odd times -- ten minutes or ten hours after the last food was given. Day and night are jumbled. Interrogation sessions are similarly unpatterned the subject may be brought back for more questioning just a few minutes after being dismissed for the night. Half-hearted efforts to cooperate can be ignored, and conversely he can be rewarded for non-cooperation. (For example, a successfully resisting source may become distraught if given some reward for the "valuable contribution" that he has made.) The Alice in Wonderland technique can reinforce the effect. Two or more interrogators, questioning as a team and in relays (and thoroughly jumbling the timing of both methods) can ask questions which make it impossible for the interrogatee to give sensible, significant answers. A subject who is cut off from the world he knows seeks to recreate it, in some measure, in the new and strange environment. He may try to keep track of time, to live in the familiar past, to cling to old concepts of loyalty, to establish -- with one or more interrogators -- interpersonal relations resembling those that he has had earlier with other people, and to build other bridges back to the known. Thwarting his attempts to do so is likely to drive him deeper and deeper into himself, until he is no longer able to control his responses in adult fashion."
It makes perfect sense, and it sounds horrible. I feel confident that somewhere there is a body of Cold War research that underlies this, but except for one study of Korean prisoners that emphasizes their need to create and cling to a stable role in an unfamiliar situation, and the ways in which Korean interrogators played on this need, I haven't found it.
Nonetheless, of all the parts of the KUBARK interrogation technique, this is the one that seems most obviously to constitute messing with people's heads. If you haven't read the research, it's hard to imagine how horrible prolonged sensory deprivation and isolation can be, and how rapidly they lead to serious damage. When you're already treating detainees in ways that are literally designed to drive them crazy, then adding a consistent attempt to create a world in which nothing makes any sense at all -- in which detainees are dismissed for the night and then called back for more interrogation ten minutes later; in which they are kept from knowing whether it is day or night; in which interrogators are both omnipotent and literally senseless -- just provides the crowning touch.
The KUBARK system of interrogation was based on a lot of research into, on the one hand, the results of horrific treatment of prisoners, and on the other, how to drive people crazy. It was designed to induce serious psychological damage. Many of the passages cited above make that clear, as does this paragraph (sec. IX.B):
"The profound moral objection to applying duress past the point of irreversible psychological damage has been stated. Judging the validity of other ethical arguments about coercion exceeds the scope of this paper. What is fully clear, however, is that controlled coercive manipulation of an interrogatee may impair his ability to make fine distinctions but will not alter his ability to answer correctly such gross questions as "Are you a Soviet agent? What is your assignment now? Who is your present case officer?""
Parts of this paragraph, including the reference to "irreversible psychological damage", are repeated in the 1983 interrogation manual at L.6.
Which is to say: the author(s) of the KUBARK manual knew that they were describing how to inflict massive psychological damage in the course of an interrogation. They didn't just break people's souls into tiny little pieces by accident; that was the whole point.
"Padilla's lawyers contend that as a result of his isolation and interrogation, their client is so mentally damaged that he is unable to assist in his own defense. He is so passive and fearful now, they maintain, that he is "like a piece of furniture."
Even at this late stage, after dozens of meetings with his lawyers, Padilla suspects that they are government agents, says Andrew Patel, who is on the legal team. Padilla may believe that the lawyers assigned to represent him are in fact "part of a continuing interrogation program."
The situation has become impossible, defense lawyers say; they've hired two psychiatric experts to examine Padilla. Both have often testified for the prosecution in criminal cases. This time they have sided with the defense.
After spending more than 25 hours with Padilla, both psychiatric experts have concluded that his isolation and interrogation have resulted in so much mental damage that he is incompetent to stand trial."
The fact that Jose Padilla has become "like a piece of furniture" is not an unforeseen effect of his interrogation. It's the whole point. It's a feature, not a bug.