Friday, February 12, 2016

Is Solitary Confinement Cruel and Unusual Punishment (torture)?

AP reporter Terry Anderson (left) used hold the title of "longest held American hostage," but his record was broken in 2013 by former FBI agent Robert Levinson (held by Iran).

The New Yorker
"Consider what we’ve learned from hostages who have been held in solitary confinement—from the journalist Terry Anderson, for example, whose extraordinary memoir, “Den of Lions,” recounts his seven years as a hostage of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Anderson was the chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press when, on March 16, 1985, three bearded men forced him from his car in Beirut at gunpoint. He was pushed into a Mercedes sedan, covered head to toe with a heavy blanket, and made to crouch head down in the footwell behind the front seat. His captors drove him to a garage, pulled him out of the car, put a hood over his head, and bound his wrists and ankles with tape. For half an hour, they grilled him for the names of other Americans in Beirut, but he gave no names and they did not beat him or press him further. They threw him in the trunk of the car, drove him to another building, and put him in what would be the first of a succession of cells across Lebanon. He was soon placed in what seemed to be a dusty closet, large enough for only a mattress. Blindfolded, he could make out the distant sounds of other hostages. (One was William Buckley, the C.I.A. station chief who was kidnapped and tortured repeatedly until he weakened and died.) Peering around his blindfold, Anderson could see a bare light bulb dangling from the ceiling. He received three unpalatable meals a day—usually a sandwich of bread and cheese, or cold rice with canned vegetables, or soup. He had a bottle to urinate in and was allotted one five- to ten-minute trip each day to a rotting bathroom to empty his bowels and wash with water at a dirty sink. Otherwise, the only reprieve from isolation came when the guards made short visits to bark at him for breaking a rule or to threaten him, sometimes with a gun at his temple.
He missed people terribly, especially his fiancée and his family. He was despondent and depressed. Then, with time, he began to feel something more. He felt himself disintegrating. It was as if his brain were grinding down. A month into his confinement, he recalled in his memoir, “The mind is a blank. Jesus, I always thought I was smart. Where are all the things I learned, the books I read, the poems I memorized? There’s nothing there, just a formless, gray-black misery. My mind’s gone dead. God, help me.”
He was stiff from lying in bed day and night, yet tired all the time. He dozed off and on constantly, sleeping twelve hours a day. He craved activity of almost any kind. He would watch the daylight wax and wane on the ceiling, or roaches creep slowly up the wall. He had a Bible and tried to read, but he often found that he lacked the concentration to do so. He observed himself becoming neurotically possessive about his little space, at times putting his life in jeopardy by flying into a rage if a guard happened to step on his bed. He brooded incessantly, thinking back on all the mistakes he’d made in life, his regrets, his offenses against God and family.
His captors moved him every few months. For unpredictable stretches of time, he was granted the salvation of a companion—sometimes he shared a cell with as many as four other hostages—and he noticed that his thinking recovered rapidly when this occurred. He could read and concentrate longer, avoid hallucinations, and better control his emotions. “I would rather have had the worst companion than no companion at all,” he noted.
In September, 1986, after several months of sharing a cell with another hostage, Anderson was, for no apparent reason, returned to solitary confinement, this time in a six-by-six-foot cell, with no windows, and light from only a flickering fluorescent lamp in an outside corridor. The guards refused to say how long he would be there. After a few weeks, he felt his mind slipping away again.
“I find myself trembling sometimes for no reason,” he wrote. “I’m afraid I’m beginning to lose my mind, to lose control completely.”
One day, three years into his ordeal, he snapped. He walked over to a wall and began beating his forehead against it, dozens of times. His head was smashed and bleeding before the guards were able to stop him.
Some hostages fared worse. Anderson told the story of Frank Reed, a fifty-four-year-old American private-school director who was taken hostage and held in solitary confinement for four months before being put in with Anderson. By then, Reed had become severely withdrawn. He lay motionless for hours facing a wall, semi-catatonic. He could not follow the guards’ simplest instructions. This invited abuse from them, in much the same way that once isolated rhesus monkeys [from Harry Harlow's studies] seemed to invite abuse from the colony. Released after three and a half years, Reed ultimately required admission to a psychiatric hospital."

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Suicide by Vehicle Crash -- Weather Channel Meterologist

ABC 13, Wednesday, January 27, 2016
"Authorities said a meteorologist for The Weather Channel died by suicide when crashing his car through an Atlanta parking garage wall and plowing into an adjacent hotel, injuring a worker.

Authorities said 39-year-old Nicholas Wiltgen was pronounced dead Sunday evening after the crash at Midtown Atlanta's Colony Square Mall.

Mark Guilbeau, senior investigator with the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office, said Wiltgen's death was a suicide.

Atlanta police spokeswoman Kim Jones says Wiltgen's car traveled about 20 feet into the adjacent W Atlanta-Midtown, where it hit a hotel worker in a storage area. The worker was treated for non-life-threatening injuries."

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Martin Seligman and CIA torture

"No, I actually don't know where the bodies are buried."

Despite the recent hatchet job in the NY Review of Books, I'd say that the APA's Hoffman report generally clears Martin Seligman, with regard to involvement in U.S. government torture programs.
"APA’s critics have hypothesized that Seligman took a far more active role in supporting the CIA’s interrogation program than the relatively tangential interactions described above.They point to the December 2001 meeting at Seligman’s home and an email from Hubbard in March 2004 expressing gratitude for Seligman’s help “over the past four years” as evidence that Seligman was an active participant in supporting the CIA’s interrogation program. Seligman and Hubbard had similar, though not identical, explanations for Hubbard’s comment. Seligman explained that he had previously asked Hubbard about the email and that Hubbard had explained that he was referring to the pro bono lecture Seligman had given to the Navy SERE school in May 2002. Hubbard said that he was “basically” thanking Seligman for hosting the meetings in his home in 2001. Thus, both Hubbard and Seligman explained that Hubbard was thanking Seligman only for his involvement in the meetings that have become public knowledge.  
Critics also allege that the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, founded by Seligman, received a $31 million sole source contract from DoD in 2010 because of assistance Seligman provided to the government with its counter-terrorism efforts. Seligman said that this contract was awarded because there were no competing entities who had the same experience in training and research on the topic of positive psychology, and there was an urgent need for a program in positive psychology to help returning troops. Seligman clarified that during negotiations on this contract, there was never any mention that the contract related to past work he might have done for DoD or other intelligence  agencies.
Sidley [the independent reviewer responsible for this report] has not uncovered evidence that Seligman had interactions with the CIA beyond the isolated meetings and lectures in the year after 9/11 that are a matter of public record. It is possible that more interactions occurred, particularly given Hubbard’s comment that Seligman had provided assistance over the course of four years, but no evidence suggests that interrogations were ever directly discussed at these meetings, despite the fact that the scientific theories that Mitchell and Jessen later adapted to construct the CIA’s interrogation program clearly were. On balance, it seems difficult to believe that Seligman did not at least suspect that the CIA was interested in his theories, at least in part, to consider how they could be used in interrogations. However, we found no evidence to support the critics’ theory that Seligman was deeply involved in constructing or consulting on the CIA’s interrogation program, and no evidence that such consultation would have involved APA officials even if it had occurred."

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Freud and Civilization

"One cannot easily imagine [Freud] as an uninhibited pot-smoking nudist hippy."

Originally published in the New Criterion

"Freud’s last paragraph [in Civilization and its Discontents] begins as follows:
The fateful question for the human race seems to be whether, and to what extent, the development of civilization will manage to overcome the disturbance of communal life caused by the human drive for aggression and self-destruction.
In other words, man is endowed by nature with instinctual desires that have to be controlled in civilized conditions, if those conditions are to continue to obtain, but the control gives rise to frustration, guilt, and anxiety, that is to say to discontent.
Freud’s model of the mind is deeply hydraulic (he grew up in the great age of steam, after all). He tells us, for example, that “any restriction of … outward-directed aggression would be bound to increase the degree of self-destruction.” On this view, then, the attempt to control outward aggression (and the sexual urge, the other great component of what he calls the id) must result in pathology of one kind or another. As one prisoner who had just killed his girlfriend put it to me, “I had to kill her, doctor, or I don’t know what I would’ve done.” Suffered from a mild degree of hypertension, perhaps, which would have been far worse.
On a hydraulic model, of course, it is hardly surprising if a head of steam, that is to say instinct, builds up occasionally, and eventually bursts the machine that contains it asunder. There will be Chinese Cultural Revolutions and Liberian Civil Wars from time to time (and not only in China or Liberia) that wreak havoc on all the material symbols of civilized restraint. The iconoclast, resentful at the restraint he has hitherto been forced by circumstances to show, will look at those symbols and, like Malvolio, say, “I will be revenged on the whole pack of you.”
In Civilization and Its Discontents, for example, [Freud] says more than once that civilization, precisely because it imposes such restraints on man’s instinctual appetites, leaves him less happy than he was in a state of nature. It would be only too easy to conclude from this that Freud thought that a return to an instinctual free-for-all was desirable, especially as he says that the purpose and aim of most men in life is happiness.
But Freud was a thorough-going Viennese bourgeois himself; one cannot easily imagine him as an uninhibited pot-smoking nudist hippy. He was far too well-tailored for that nonsense. He had a scientistic outlook typical of a certain Germanophone intellectual of the era that by the end of his life was very old-fashioned, and was certainly not the outlook of a man who thought that anything went—quite the reverse in fact. If he believed that civilization made men unhappy, he did not think that they would willingly give up its comforts and safety for a return to nature. They were therefore stuck with civilization; their revolt against it was a little like Québecois threats to secede from Canada, constantly threatened and always troublesome, but not likely in the long run to destroy everything.
Freud believed that suffering caused by frustration was the condition of civilized existence; it could not be avoided. His view of the human mental economy being a hydraulic one, he thought that if suffering did not come to man in one way, it would come in another. He would have agreed with Doctor Johnson’s great philosophical fable, Rasselas, that no way of life is so satisfactory that it lacks many dissatisfactions. I am human, therefore I am dissatisfied. This conclusion does not come from psychoanalysis—whenever Freud uses the locution “As psychoanalytical investigations have shown …” you can be sure that intellectual sleight of hand is about to follow, for such investigations have not “shown” anything, not in the sense that Pasteur showed that fermentation was an organic process. No, Freud came to his conclusion as a highly cultivated, intelligent, elderly bourgeois reflecting upon life, and his conclusion is a conservative one, at least if it is conservative to believe that there are inherent existential limitations to human life and that political schemes that do not recognize them will almost certainly end in violence and avoidable suffering."

-- Anthony Daniels

Monday, February 8, 2016

President Obama on Solitary Confinement

This photo wasn't taken in Cuba or Iran. This is a cell in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) in Pelican Bay, California.

"In 2010, a 16-year-old named Kalief Browder from the Bronx was accused of stealing a backpack. He was sent to Rikers Island to await trial, where he reportedly endured unspeakable violence at the hands of inmates and guards — and spent nearly two years in solitary confinement.
In 2013, Kalief was released, having never stood trial. He completed a successful semester at Bronx Community College. But life was a constant struggle to recover from the trauma of being locked up alone for 23 hours a day. One Saturday, he committed suicide at home. He was just 22 years old.
Solitary confinement gained popularity in the United States in the early 1800s, and the rationale for its use has varied over time. Today, it’s increasingly overused on people such as Kalief, with heartbreaking results — which is why my administration is taking steps to address this problem.
There are as many as 100,000 people held in solitary confinement in U.S. prisons — including juveniles and people with mental illnesses. As many as 25,000 inmates are serving months, even years of their sentences alone in a tiny cell, with almost no human contact.
Research suggests that solitary confinement has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences. It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior. Some studies indicate that it can worsen existing mental illnesses and even trigger new ones. Prisoners in solitary are more likely to commit suicide, especially juveniles and people with mental illnesses."

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tribute to Kafka for Someone Taken -- Alan Dugan

I see George Plimpton and Truman Capote.

The party is going strong.
The doorbell rings. It’s
for someone named me.
I’m coming. I take
a last drink, a last
puff on a cigarette,
a last kiss at a girl,
and step into the hall,
shutting out the laughter. “Is
your name you?” “Yes.”
“Well come along then.”
“See here. See here. See here.”

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Just Like Heaven -- Natalie Angst

Natalie Angst

"Show me, show me, show me how you do that trick
The one that makes me scream" she said
"The one that makes me laugh" she said
And threw her arms around my neck

"Show me how you do it
And I promise you I promise that
I'll run away with you
I'll run away with you"

Spinning on that dizzy edge
I kissed her face and kissed her head
And dreamed of all the different ways I had
To make her glow

 "Why are you so far away?" she said
"Why won't you ever know that I'm in love with you
That I'm in love with you"

Soft and only
Lost and lonely
Strange as angels

 Dancing in the deepest oceans
Twisting in the water
You're just like a dream
You're just like a dream

Daylight licked me into shape
I must have been asleep for days
And moving lips to breathe her name
I opened up my eyes

And found myself alone, alone
 Alone above a raging sea
That stole the only girl I loved
And drowned her deep inside of me

Soft and lonely
Lost and lonely
Just like heaven