The Order of the Garter, England’s highest order of chivalry, has a motto in Old French that means, “Shame on him who thinks evil of it.” It should have served as a warning for the American Psychological Association (APA) when they commissioned a 542-page report that unleashed calumny upon courageous and ethical military members of that Association. This matter is relevant to all Americans, as it is a prime example of why politicization of science is so dangerous to a free republic.
As first reported in The New York Times on July 10, 2015, the report criticizes military and intelligence community psychologists for their involvement in the interrogation of truly evil people: radical Islamists bent on the destruction of The West. More specifically, the APA targeted a friend, patriot and virtuous man, Colonel (Dr.) Morgan Banks. By the publication and release of this report, the APA becomes a willing co-conspirator to the likes of al Qaeda and ISIS. It is also guilty of libeling our friend. Here is the truth of the matter from both battlefield and garrison.
In late 2001, huddled in a temporary headquarters near Bagram, Afghanistan, members of Task Force Bowie were rounding up unlawful combatants for detention and interrogation. Led by then-Brigadier General Gary L. Harrell (former Commander of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta – “Delta Force”), Task Force Bowie was comprised of some our Republic’s finest warriors. It also had a group of innovative support personnel, including then Lieutenant Colonel (Dr.) Morgan Banks (a Psychologist) and author Lieutenant Colonel John Taylor (a Judge Advocate). Along with the Commander and his Judge Advocate, Banks ensured that the detainees were legally, ethically and morally treated fairly and with all the dignity that underpins the Geneva Conventions (even though, arguably, these detainees were not lawful combatants entitled to such privileges).
Fast-forward a few years – when most of America had become bored with the war – a small, but baying minority of APA members started alleging that Army psychologists were involved in enhanced interrogation operations and torture. Never mind that the facts belied such claims, these APA members continued to entertain these baseless allegations. Eventually, they hired an alleged “neutral” investigator to report on this matter at large. Little did Colonel Banks know at the time, when he candidly cooperated with this charade (naïvely believing truth would prevail); but the investigator’s conclusions were predestined.
As retired Judge Advocates with multiple combat deployments to Gulf War I, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan with both special operations forces and airborne infantry units, we have firsthand experience in training our warriors to abide by International Law. We also know Morgan Banks personally and professionally. His presence in Afghanistan with Task Force Bowie, and later his involvement in developing a small but robust corps of operational psychologists, helped lay the groundwork for just and righteous treatment of detainees caught on the fields of battle. Hardly condoning torture, as Washington Post’s Greg Miller claims in his story on the report.
The falsehoods of the APA report are too numerous for this venue, but it is abundantly clear that Morgan Banks and his protégés have consistently stated, lectured and briefed that torture does not elicit accurate information. They persistently provided commanders, Judge Advocates and interrogators with the opinion that torture is ineffective. To infer that they were somehow complicit in the use of torture against detainees is a damnable lie. And, contrary to the thoughtless assertions of the APA report, where would the military be without the mature and reasoned voices of moderation and morality provided by those Army Operational Psychologists on the battlefield?
Torture is an unreliable method for interrogation and is unethical. That has been the position that Dr. Banks has taken from the very beginning, particularly during those dark early post 9/11 days when many entertained thoughts of using whatever methods – including torture – in order to prevent another terrorist attack. Morgan Banks held firm against those voices and contributed immeasurably to the development of safe, humane and legally compliant interrogation techniques.
The APA report is a classic attack of cowards; pseudo-intellectuals sitting on the sidelines, jeering and criticizing the actual participants in the arena of life. Instead of going to the sound of the guns after 9/11, as did Colonel Banks, these APA members huddled in their stateside offices and took political potshots at those who were actually “in the game.” Were they as quick to put their lives and careers at risk, as did Morgan Banks, perhaps we might give them heed. President Teddy Roosevelt spoke about such soulless creatures when he spoke of the Man in the Arena: “It is not the critic who counts; nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”
Personally, Dr. Banks treated even the whiff of detainee mistreatment as serious and unpardonable. Rather than condemning him, the APA should be thanking Banks for creatively authoring methods that would allow psychologists to use their unique and special skill set to enhance our ability to obtain information from detainees and to do so in a legally, medically and morally acceptable manner.
Another victim of this scurrilous report is Dr. Stephen Behnke, who lost his job because he supported the military in our Republic’s time of need. When Operational Psychologists reached out to the APA for ethical guidance in a new and evolving area of practice, this courageous man and others within the organization responded with thoughtful guidance. In reward, Chicago political operative and lawyer David Hoffman, with no background, training or experience in international law, military law, operational psychology or wartime interrogation techniques and methods, authored this inaccurate and defamatory report destroying these extraordinarily ethical men and women’s careers. That, alone, should explain everything. In the end, Ils ont raté une belle occasion de se taire.