Torture: It's a Dog's Life

On Friday, Democracy Now! interviewed Jane Mayer about her new book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. In the interview Mayer talks about psychologists contracted by the CIA to develop torture methods used on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Mayer discusses how the psychologist James Mitchell adapted "psychological theories that would help break down the detainees." Mayer explains how these theories came from "experiments with dogs, in which dogs were put in cages and electrocuted and in a random way that completely broke their will to resist. It's a theory called 'learned helplessness,' and it springs from experiments done in the 1970s by a very famous psychologist in America named Martin Seligman."

Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman quoted a statement from Seligman who claimed, "I strongly disapprove of torture and have never and would never provide assistance in its process." What is ignored in this interview is that Seligman's experiments on dogs were torture – whether broadly defining torture as any instance were pain is inflicted on a human or nonhuman animal, or in the narrow sense of intentionally inflicting pain or suffering to obtain information.

Perhaps the reason Seligman is not accused of torture is because he is a scientist. Science is thought of as the search for "Truth." However, if torture is "the torment and suffering of the body in order to elicit the truth," as the Roman jurist Ulpian claimed in the early part of the third century, then experiments like Seligman's are clearly torture.

It's not surprising then to hear Mayer explain how Mitchell is a "great believer in 'Science is science,' as he says, and so he used what he thought was good science, which were experiments that had been done on dogs, to apply them to ways to break down human detainees." The problem is that science is not always science. Science is often deeply racist, sexist, colonialist, heterosexist, cissexist, ableist, ageist, classist, nationalist, militarist, speciesist, or otherwise used to support oppressive ideologies.

Several times in the interview, Mayer talked about how Abu Zubaydah and other detainees were treated like dogs:

They took [Zubaydah] off and put him through all kinds of things, including this dog cage that he was locked up in.

what we do know is that [Seligman's] theories began to be cited by these psychologists, who then oversaw the CIA program and started putting Abu Zubaydah, for instance, in a dog cage and also put a dog collar on another detainee and thrust him into the wall with it headfirst.

They made [Zubaydah] do dog tricks. ... they told him to bark like a dog. They told him that he was lower than a dog.

Since the theories being used to break detainees were developed on dogs, the adaptation of those theories necessitates treating human detainees like the dogs had been treated. This would have been the case even if kennels, collars, and commands to bark and do tricks hadn't been involved. I think it would be hard to imagine this treatment of detainees if it hadn't first been deemed acceptable to treat dogs in such ways.

Re: Torture: It's a Dog's Life

Posts making connections like this always blow my mind while at the same time confirming everything I know.

This just sums up so much:
"A suspected terrorist was forced to wear a bra, dance with another man and behave like a dog during his interrogation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military investigators said Wednesday." Guantanamo inmate forced to wear bra, act like a dog: report Yes, if any of those things weren't already looked down upon, then they couldn't be used to humiliate someone.

Plus, Abu Ghraib Dog Tactics Came From Guantanamo, which is referring to using dogs to intimidate the people being held--yet another way the exploitation of dogs leads to the exploitation of humans. And it's like divide and rule because the people being detained and the dogs should be allies (and so should the soldiers too...).

And what might this picture of a soldier comforting a dog in the Guantanamo Bay Veterinary Treatment Facility mean in light of your original post? Crazy!