society and cultures

LEARNED HELPLESSNESS

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Scott Horton interviews Jane Mayer:

[…] It was completely fascinating to me to learn that Martin Seligman, one of the most esteemed psychologists in the country, a former head of the APA, was connected to the CIA after 9/11. Seligman is known for work he did back in the 1960’s at the University of Pennsylvania in a theory he called “Learned Helplessness.” He and colleagues conducted experiments on caged dogs, in which they used electric charges to shock them randomly. He discovered that the random mistreatment destroyed the dogs emotionally to the point where they no longer had the will to escape, even when offered a way out. Seligman confirmed for me, by email, that in the spring of 2002, as the CIA was trying to figure out how to interrogate its first major high-value detainee, Abu Zubayda, he was brought in to speak about his theories to a high-level confab apparently organized by CIA officials, at the Navy’s SERE School in San Diego. He said his talk lasted some three hours. Seligman said his talk was focused on how to help U.S. soldiers resist torture—not on how to breakdown resistance in detainees.

But, according to numerous sources (who are quoted on the record in The Dark Side), Seligman’s theories were cited admiringly soon after by James Mitchell, the psychologist whom the CIA put on contract to advise on its secret interrogation protocol. Eyewitnesses describe Mitchell as quoting Seligman’s theories of “Learned Helplessness” as useful in showing how to break the resistance of detainees’ to interrogation. One source recounts Mitchell specifically touting the experiments done on dogs in the context of how to treat detainees.

Through a lawyer, Mitchell has denied that these theories guided his and the CIA’s use of such coercive measures as close confinement, psychological manipulation, and calibrated pain. But Mitchell confirmed, when I spoke to him, that he admired Seligman’s work.

Among the U.S. Government’s interrogation techniques that seem to echo these experiments are the uses of random maltreatment—taking away any predictable schedule from detainees so that they have no idea what time it is, no sense of when meals are delivered, no idea if it is day or night, as well as manipulating temperature, sound, sleep, and using isolation, all of which are meant to cause psychic stress that would erode a prisoner’s resistance to being interrogated and foster total dependency upon an interrogator. Perhaps just coincidentally, the detainees have described other ways in which they were treated like dogs—the use of dog cages and of a collar and leash.

Learned helplessness: it’s the treatment that has been administered to this country, and its citizens.

We’ve been subjected to sufficient random mistreatment that we’ve been destroyed emotionally to the point where we, as a people, no longer have the will to resist.

Learned helplessness.

Our Department of “Justice” has run rampant with crimes:

[…] [Jessica Radack]’s job in the department was to give ethical advice. She was asked whether an FBI officer in Afghanistan could interrogate John Walker Lindh and use his statements against him in any future trial. By the time she was asked this, however, as she knew, Lindh’s father had already hired a lawyer to represent him. So she concluded that it would not be proper for the FBI to question him outside the presence of his counsel.

To her amazement, the FBI agent went ahead and did so anyway, and then the prosecutors in the Justice Department proceeded to use Lindh’s statements against him in their criminal prosecution. She told me, “It was like ethics were out the window. After 9/11, it was, like, ‘anything goes’ in the name of terrorism. It felt like they’d made up their minds to get him, regardless of the process.” Radack believed that the role of the ethics office was to “rein in the cowboys” whose zeal to stop criminals sometimes led them to overstep legal boundaries. “But after 9/11 we were bending ethics to fit our needs,” she said. “Something wrong was going on. It wasn’t just fishy—it stank.”

What happened next was truly scary. She tried to ensure that a judge overseeing the case, who asked for all information regarding the Department’s handling of Lindh, was given the full record, including her own contrary advice. But instead, she said she found that her superiors at Justice sent the judge only selective portions of the record, excluding her contrary opinion. Her case files, she said, were tampered with, and documents missing. Among the senior Justice Department officials who were sent her files, she said was Alice Fisher, a deputy to Michael Chertoff who followed him as head of the Department’s Criminal Division.

Radack complained about what she thought were serious omissions of the record being withheld from the judge. Within weeks of disagreeing with the top Justice Department officials, Radack went from having been singled out for praise, to being hounded out of the department. Radack got a job in private practice, but after her story appeared in Newsweek, with copies of some of her emails, the Justice Department opened a leak investigation. The U.S. Attorney then opened a criminal investigation. Radack has since become an advocate for whistle-blowers’ rights. But the episode served as a warning to anyone in the government who stood in the way of the so-called, “New Paradigm.”

Learned helplessness.

Horton:

[…] One of the strongest quotes in the book, I think, comes from Philip Zelikow, the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, former counselor to Secretary of State Condi Rice, and a historian who teaches at the University of Virginia. He suggests in time that America’s descent into torture will be viewed like the internment of the Japanese, because they happened for similar reasons. As he puts it, “Fear and anxiety were exploited by zealots and fools.”

Learned helplessness.

[…] Helgerson’s 2004 report had been described to me as very disturbing, the size of two Manhattan phone books, and full of terrible descriptions of mistreatment. The confirmation that Helgerson was called in to talk with Cheney about it proves that–as early as then–the Vice President’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in The Program.

We know that in addition, the IG investigated several alleged homicides involving CIA detainees, and that Helgerson’s office forwarded several to the Justice Department for further consideration and potential prosecution. The only case so far that has been prosecuted in the criminal courts is that involving David Passaro—a low-level CIA contractor, not a full official in the Agency. Why have there been no charges filed?

Learned helplessness.

Get used to it.

It’s your country. It’s your choice. It’s your former rights that have been disappearing, while you stood by, good Germans, wrapped up in your own lives, leaving it to others to prevent crimes, to pay attention, to work to prevent torture, spying, law-breaking, war crimes, and the criminally unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

What have you done to stop it?

Learned helplessness. It’s a choice. It’s a lifestyle.

It’s the New Paradigm for America.

Land of the freely chosen learned helplessness.

Read The Rest Scale: 5 out of 5. Jane Mayer’s new book, The Dark Side. (Click there to purchase, and I get a tiny amount.) My previous posts on the documentary. PBS website with much invaluable material.

Past posts covering Jane Mayer articles are here, here, here. More Mayer. Much More Mayer.

Past post on David Passaro.

Video discussion with Mayer.

End our learned helplessness. It’s up to me and you.

Just say no. Impeach. Impeachment after office. After office:

[…] It is possible to impeach someone even after the accused has vacated their office in order to disqualify the person from future office or from certain emoluments of their prior office (such as a pension).

Impeachment means investigation, and unearthing of truth. History.

End our learned helplessness.

http://amygdalagf.blogspot.com/2008/07/learned-helplessness.html

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