CIA black sites: offshore interrogation centres and an increasingly aggressive CIA

With details of the newly published report by the US Senate coming out, this 4 year investigation is shining light on some of the questionable interrogation techniques and the medical staff involved in the “safe keeping” of the detainees of the US Government.

Whilst much of the attention has been focused on the legality and usefulness of the interrogation techniques, many within the medical community have expressed concerns over the role of medical personnel in these interrogation sites.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) are a Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation that investigate and help uncover abuses around the world. They have called for an in depth investigation into the role played by the medical staff employed within the various US governmental departments that use interrogative techniques.

In the original version of the Hippocratic Oath physicians swore to work at the “convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood”. Whilst the Hippocratic Oath is not legally binding, it is a guide and ethical convention that most physicians consider extremely important. This empathetic and caring responsibility seems not to sit well with the roles played by physicians in the CIA ‘black sites’ or even in Guantanamo Bay. This role is quite simple; ensure that the detainee does not die.

There have been several key personalities that have come to light as a result of the investigation, James Elmer Mitchell being one. Mitchell is a former US Air Force psychologist, where he trained interrogators in the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school. Along with former USAF psychologist Bruce Jessum, he was paid a reported $80 million to design and implement an interrogation programme aimed at detained suspected terrorists.

From what has been leaked of the report so far, it seems that physical and mental harm are not necessarily negatively viewed. Reports of 180 hours of sleep deprivation and hours of stress positions involving standing on broken or damaged lower limbs are emerging.

Dr Mitchell has been reported as saying: “I am just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.”

Appealing to patriotism is a popular move in avoidance tactics, but with the amount of noise coming from the medical community, this looks to be an issue that won’t blow over quickly.

Ashya King: lessons to be learned

The parents of 5 year old Ashya King were released from a Spanish prison after a European arrest warrant against them was cancelled; this arose following their actions to smuggle him out of Southampton General Hospital and travel to Spain, believing he was not getting the best care and that his condition would deteriorate. They wanted Ashya, who has a brain tumour, to receive treatment at the Proton Therapy Centre in Prague.

However, the full force of the Law immediately swung into action, involving the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Hampshire Constabulary. The couple were arrested, handcuffed, separated from their son and thrown into prison, simply for loving their son and wanting the best possible treatment for him.

Justice for the Kings
Only after a sustained cry of public protest ensued, involving the Prime Minister, were the parents re-united with their desperately ill son. By now the child was confused, depressed and lying alone in a foreign hospital, adding to the family’s anguish.

Mr King said: “We want to help our son get through this bad time because he hasn’t got too many months to live and we’re locked away in a cell…”

Mrs King, said: “I just want to wet his mouth because he can’t drink through his mouth, I want to brush his teeth, I want to turn him side to side every 15 minutes because he can’t move.”

Yet, he could still see and feel emotions. Would deprivation of a mother and father’s comfort help Ashya? How would the little boy’s confidence and trust be impacted long term? The story has touched the hearts of people worldwide.

We have since learnt that the private clinic in the Czech Republic can treat Ashya.

Duty of care v parents love
The CPS said the risk to Ashya’s life “was not as great or immediate as had been originally thought.” The parents had ordered specialist foods to care for Ashya, and had managed to charge the food pump.

Doctors have a duty of care to do the best for their patients. Do loving, devoted parents also have a right to disagree with their decisions? Isn’t there a case for decent common sense to prevail?

On the other hand, what sort of outcry would have happened if the doctors had let him go without a word and the boy had died? What would this say about his medical care?

The parents have won their brave fight against the institutions yet only after the healthcare system, the police and prosecutors were ruthless in their pursuit of them.

Was their only crime to opt out of receiving NHS care? Having allowed their son to be treated by the NHS they couldn’t escape its clutches and were punished if they dared to disobey the rules? Was this the fault of the doctors or a heavy handed NHS?

Should we question a healthcare system that, instead of apologising to the parents when they thought the service was not good enough, reacted with an unpleasant uproar?

Clearly, there are some lessons to be learned.

Are Whistleblowers being treated fairly?

Whistleblowers are being victimised when they go back to work.

A recent government report found that whistleblowers were often victimised and bullied after exposing misconduct in companies and public services in the UK.

As the expenditure of public money is often shrouded in a cloud of secrecy, a whistleblower can give us an insider’s perspective – divulging valuable information that lies within the public interest.

Legally protected

The act of whistle blowing is covered, in law, by the 1998 Public Disclosure Act.

For information to be leaked legally, it must be proven to relate to malpractice or criminality.

Atrocities such as the police cover up of the Hillsborough disaster have been revealed because of whistleblowers and it remains an important way to uncover wrong doing.

The second section of the law states that whistleblowers have the “right not to suffer detriment”.

This rule is more difficult to enact because the public body or company, and fellow employees, often suffer as a result of the whistleblowing.

Upon returning to the workplace, whistleblowers are often treated with disdain. They are harassed and bullied and although covered legally, it is difficult to reprimand those who are singling them out.

The report says that: “the whistleblowers fears of reprisal are often justified, and such experiences are likely to deter other employees from raising a concern”.

How is it possible to fairly treat whistleblowers?

If whistleblowers do not feel like they are protected then they are less likely to reveal important evidence.

It is thus important that we push for those who victimise whistleblowers to be given harsher punishments.

Although the law currently protects whistleblowers, punishments for harassment are not nearly heavy enough.

Companies and public services should be forced to do everything in their power to make sure that this consistent problem does not occur.

Conclusion

The report states that: “Where the identity of whistleblowers is known, departments must ensure that they are protected, supported and have their welfare monitored”.

It also offers three suggestions to how companies should work with whistleblowers:
1. “Ownership from the top by assigning a board member who is accountable for the proper treatment of whistleblowers”.
2. “Providing whistleblowers with appropriate support and advice, such as access to legal and counselling services”.
3. “Appropriate and swift sanctions against employees, at all levels in the organisation, if they victimise whistleblowers”.

All of these suggestions, especially the third recommendation, would help to make the life of a whistleblower easier. In turn, this would make it more likely for people to come forward and expose issues which are of great importance to us all.

Anonymous bloggers causing defamation, harassment, bullying and other illegal activities…What do we need to do to eliminate the bad ones? Any current UK laws to stop them?

Cyber bullying and anonymous bloggers

Cyber bullying is defined as an action that ‘uses information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group that is intended to harm another or others.’

Website browsing, discussion forums and other mobile technologies such as SMS text messaging are a part of everyday life. We have the freedom to voice our opinions and make positive or negative comments about different services or current affairs. This has also led to some users abusing the system with the purposeful intention of causing emotional hurt. The practice is becomingly increasingly common especially with the rise of social media platforms.

Crossing the Rubicon

So what are the parameters and where do we draw the line? Couldn’t giving a business a poor product review or any small comment you make, cause hurt?

The areas that constitute cyber bullying are comments that are deliberately hostile or intended to incite hatred, humiliation or other adverse reaction. This could be posting a message or starting a rumour through malicious gossip that aims to manipulate, provoke by intimidation, exert control, embarrass, cause shame or ruin, denigrate or wrongly discredit the person on the receiving end. Such action is usually repeated but this may not always be the case. An erroneous message could be posted on a site about another person’s professional activity, without substantiation, which could potentially harm the recipient’s career.

Stranger or Acquaintance

The perpetrator could be a person with whom the target is familiar or an anonymous stranger. He or she could solicit mass action from others to cause harm, known as a “digital pile-on”.

Cyber bullying can range from annoying an individual to serious provocation and threat. In a professional environment whereby a highly qualified person is at risk, it could ruin a career.

How can we filter abusive comment?

Many people may unintentionally cause distress to another – such as sending a tweet which carries an inappropriate reference and causes misunderstanding.

So how can we eliminate obvious harassment?

The abuse must be reported and taken seriously by the authorities. This may not necessarily be the police. It could involve reporting accusatory remarks to relevant professional bodies. Magazine owners or publishers might be one example when comments are posted online. Professional associations could be contacted about a false statement that could ruin an otherwise exemplary reputation.

Organisations should create specific statutes designed to address defamatory comments; they could make it illegal to post obscene remarks, threats, accusations or other immoral suggestions.

UK law

Although, within current UK law, there is no legal definition of cyber bullying, the following existing laws are applicable to cyber bullying:
- Protection from Harassment Act 1997
- Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
- Malicious Communications Act 1988
- Communications Act 2003
- Breach of the Peace (Scotland)
- Defamation Act 2013

Guidelines issued by The Crown Prosecution Service in Dec 2012 explain how cases of cyber bullying will be assessed under the current legislation.

In addition, The Defamation Act 2013 came into force on 1st January 2014.