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Yale University to Train U.S. Special Forces in Interrogation Techniques by Practicing on Immigrants


The Department of Defense and Yale University have partnered up to train U.S. soldiers in the art of interrogation techniques with the local immigrant community acting as test subjects, reports the Yale Daily News.

As early as this April, Yale plans to welcome a training center for interrogators to its campus.

The center’s primary goal would be to coach U.S. Special Forces on interviewing tactics designed to detect lies. Charles Morgan III, a professor of psychiatry who will head the project, calls these tactics “people skills.” These techniques would be honed using New Haven’s immigrant community as subjects. Morgan hopes that by having soldiers practice their newly acquired techniques on “someone they can’t necessarily identify with” (read: someone who is not white), they’ll be better prepared to do ‘the real thing’ abroad.

The authors of the article, Nathalie Batraville and Alex Law, provide many reasons for why this training center is a terrible idea, one of which includes a lack of transparency. Apparently, students didn’t learn about the new program until now, just two months before the center opens. As Batraville and Law point out:

There was no conversation with the city about how this might impact its immigrant community. There was no conversation with students and faculty about how it might impact campus culture. And there was no conversation at all about the ethics of a project like this. It’s hard to understand where this project came from; the university’s motivations are wholly opaque.

They also argue that Yale could be indirectly involving itself in immoral practices by training soldiers whose skills could be used to, for example, determine whose name is added to President Obama’s kill list.

Most importantly, the authors offer some insight into the racist aspect of this program:

Morgan’s research and, by extension, this proposed center target people of color — brown people exclusively. According to a Yale Herald article, Morgan listed “Moroccans, Columbians, Nepalese, Ecuadorians and others.” Is there an assumption in Morgan’s desire to use more ‘authentic,’ brown interviewees as test subjects, that brown people lie differently from whites — and even more insidiously, that all brown people must belong to the same “category” of liar?

How might training on lie detection be perceived if it targeted blacks, or if it aimed to answer the question, “How do Jews lie?” That Morgan’s test subjects are compensated does not resolve the ethical questions his project raises. In fact, their participation highlights the structural inequality that this research capitalizes on and that the center would ultimately exploit.

As Nathalie was working on this piece, her phone rang. At the other end of the line was her 7-year-old nephew Rocco, who wanted to wish her a happy Valentine’s Day and send her many loud kisses. He now lives in Montreal, where Nathalie is from, but until about a year ago, he lived in Haiti.

The U.S.’ involvement in Haiti, from its occupation between 1915 and 1934 to its support — financial, logistical (and “moral”) — of François and later Jean-Claude Duvalier’s brutal dictatorships in the 60s and 70s, informs much of her outrage surrounding the establishment of this center, and her understanding that people often lie to protect their lives, their families, their country and the very freedom that Americans so dearly cherish.

Well said! But even without the the sickening immigrants-as-test-subjects aspect, the training center is still unsettling because it further solidifies the unholy alliance between physicians and the US war machine given that a professor of psychiatry is running the project. This should come as no surprise since we mostly ignored revelations that psychologists and medical doctors helped run the torture program at Guantanamo Bay (look forward, not backward!).

So congratulations Yale! You officially suck! Fortunately not all of your students do and they’re making noise about this program. Anybody interested following in their lead in halting the development of “Ivy League Interrogation Techniques Inc.” should add their name to this petition.

UPDATE: Investigate journalist and friend Steve Horn tells me he’s not at all surprised about Yale’s latest project given the university’s involvement in the Grand Strategy Programs (GSP), which Horn and Allen Ruff reported on in 2011 for Truthout.

A matrix of closely tied university-based strategic studies ventures, the so-called Grand Strategy Programs (GSP), have cropped up on a number of elite campuses around the country, where they function to serve the national security warfare state.

In tandem with allied institutes and think tanks across the country, these programs, centered at Yale University, Duke University, the University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University, Temple University and, until recently, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, illustrate the increasingly influential role of a new breed of warrior academics in the post-9/11 United States. The network marks the ascent and influence of what might be called the “Long War University.”

Ostensibly created to train an up-and-coming elite to see a global “big picture,” this grand strategy network has brought together scores of foreign policy wonks heavily invested – literally and figuratively – in an unending quest to maintain US global supremacy, a campaign which they increasingly refer to as the Long War.

This is the first I’ve heard of this program and I’m appalled (and super creeped out). I highly recommend reading the entire piece as well as a follow-up report here.

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