Should one of America’s most well-regarded universities be affiliated with the military’s interrogation program and, by extension, its ongoing operations to identify and eliminate terrorist networks?
That is one of the questions posed by a recent op-ed published in the Yale Daily News, which goes so far as to imply the school's participation in the Obama administration's "kill lists."
That article draws attention to what has so far been a fairly under-the-radar effort to organize the U.S. SOCOM Center of Excellence for Operational Neuroscience, a partnership program between Yale University and the Department of Defense that seeks to train military officers in “Modified Cognitive Interviewing” techniques.
A series of blog posts and an online petition have begun to circulate in response to the new program, which should be up and running in just a few months.
Criticism of the center includes lack of transparency in its introduction, but is really centered on its use of New Haven’s local immigrant population as test subjects, along with the obvious political implications: Should an institution of higher education be so closely affiliated with the Department of Defense, and more specifically with its activities in combat zones?
There might be a public relations nightmare somewhere in the use of Yale’s local immigrant population to provide military trainees with an enhanced understanding of “deception” by locals in overseas deployment. Still, it is important to note that participation (or recruitment, as it were) is entirely voluntary, and paid.
An article by another of Yale’s student publications, The Yale Herald, goes into greater depth, and interviews one recent participant of the center director’s research, a Middle Eastern immigrant who arrived in New Haven in 1999:
As a contact in his ethnic community, the man has introduced Morgan to between 50 and 100 friends from the Middle East. “Some of them,” he says of his friends, “they accept it. Some of them, they get afraid. Some of them, they don’t like to give their real name…But I bring some who accept the idea.” He explained that they volunteer in the study for a number of reasons, one being the compensation Dr. Morgan provides: a minimum of $50 for one hour of their time, and up to $100 in bonuses if they successfully deceive the interviewer. The man I spoke to indicated personal satisfaction in advancing Dr. Morgan’s scientific knowledge: “They learn to figure out who’s lying and who’s saying the truth,” he said. “So you don’t take innocent people…If he’s doing something, you know, you find out.”
It seems fair to say that a decision to participate in Dr. Morgan’s studies is not a straightforward one for any “local immigrant,” particularly one of Middle Eastern descent. At the same time, the center’s cognitive research and its approach does present an effort to
“talk to people without scaring them,” as Morgan states. But is the potential to avoid detaining innocents abroad a legitimate (and moral) motivator for a local participant?
The involvement of medical professionals within the psychiatric community with the U.S. military’s interrogation program is, of course, not a new development. While most attention has been focused on the harshest methods of “enhanced” interrogation, fewer questions
have been raised regarding actual role of American physician’s involvement in the mistreatment of prisoners.
Would Yale’s new center then be more than indirectly associated with the whole of the military’s interrogation program?
According to Dr. Morgan, the aim of using subjects of diverse backgrounds is to provide military personnel the opportunity to practice interviewing with someone they “can’t necessarily identify with.” The program would look to bring in participants from such
countries of origin as Morocco, Colombia, Nepal, Ecuador and undoubtedly many others.
Regardless of the intent, the center’s focus on non-white participants seems to have struck a nerve with at least some of Yale’s student body who are clearly not in agreement.
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