Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spokane and Its Secrets

One thing I like about living in a smaller community like Spokane is the accountability that there is in people knowing their neighbors. Big cities, big anonymity, big crime. In a town where everyone is a neighbor to everyone else, there just is less crime. Oh, it exists, of course. But there is something that protects a little when anonymity is less. And Spokane has the extra benefit of being the hub of local activity. We are not a suburb, but the city between Seattle and Minneapolis. So we can be safe and have accountability in a city that is not swallowed up by some nearby metropolis.

I remember years ago, when I was on the board of the downtown Senior Center and Meals on Wheels program, we learned that we were the only Senior Center in town that received no finances from the Parks and Recreation department. All the other centers - including the one on the South Hill (translation: rich one) - received about $100,000 each annually. Here we were, serving the poorest of the poor seniors in all of Spokane, and nary a penny of those coffers reached our little center. As a board, we discussed it. As a board, we decided to speak out. I got nominated to do the speaking. Before we got started, the head of the Parks and Rec department told us we had less of a chance of succeeding than that snowball did down under. Within days of our speaking up, however, the newspaper did a feature story on the unfairness of it all. Coincidentally the story ran on Thanksgiving - with the first line being that our organization had learned that those who come last to the table get only crumbs. Good line. In the end, we got a little bit of funding, a promise for more funding, and some in-kind contributions (like use of a van to transport seniors). I left the board soon after, so I don't know details of what happened. But that series of events is an example of what I like about Spokane. If something is wrong, you can at least try to fix it.

On the other hand... This town loves its secrets. My experience with the Catholic Church (and its lay review board that - suffice to say - refused to listen to some pretty immediate concerns) is one example, but it's not the only one. There was the town's defense a few years ago of the mayor who proposed laws hostile to gays and then it turned out he had been trolling for just-turned-18-year-old young men (among other allegations, including quid pro quo for political appointments and earlier attempts of going after under-18-year-olds). The big issue in Spokane became the fact that the newspaper exposed the guy, not the substance of the exposure. People really were mad at the paper. Wow. Or what about the time that the local police force broke into the hotel room of a "20/20" producer and confiscated his videotape on the story he was putting together on the Gypsy curse? (Yes, we had a curse from the gypsies....)

When I said to a colleague recently that "Spokane loves its secrets," my colleague said that didn't I know there was a mafia connection in Spokane that dated back to its founding? I did not know that. Would like to know more... Because where we come from inevitably becomes a part of who we are, especially if we do not choose to change the course.

So I guess it should have come as no shock to me that the two psychologists instrumental in the torture policies of this country over the past several years - James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen - live in Spokane. I don't think that they're from here, but they run their business here. "If you want a place that will keep your secrets - come to Spokane," must be the word on the psychological street. Here is an article on the connection, from 2007. Turns out, in the torture memo released this past week that was authored by now-Ninth Circuit Court judge Jay Bybee, our two psychologists's opinions are used as his reassurance. A radio program in Spokane yesterday interviewed three reporters - one local - on the connection between Spokane and these torture memos. Not really something to write home about, is it?

This is what the psychologists did. They took the training at the local air force base that is used to prep our soldiers on what to expect if they are captured and tortured - which sounds like a good and important program, in and of itself - and turned the program into a "how to" for our own military to use those tactics proactively and against prisoners. Apparently the psychologists were great marketers because they were hired to implement this regardless of not having conducted any studies of effectiveness. Called "voo doo science" by a former FBI chief, the techniques they used were the techniques used in places like Korea and the former Soviet Union to get material for use in propaganda - not use in intelligence activity. As noted on the first page of the 2007 article, the CIA "chose two clinical psychologists who had no intelligence background whatsoever, who had never conducted an interrogation … to do something that had never been proven in the real world." As one person put it, "I think [Mitchell and Jessen] have caused more harm to American national security than they'll ever understand." Here's a good article connecting Bybee, Mitchell and Jessen. Here's another good article on the whole fiasco (and speaks of Mitchell's belief in "learned helplessness," a term used to describe what happens to battered women).

Which, I do not care if the torture was "good" or "bad," scientific or not, because torture is torture and it goes against the principles of this country - what I believe this country to be - so I would be against it no matter how "scientific" any outcomes could be proven to be. But to also find out that the torture we implemented was done so irresponsibly... and to know that the torture was given credit for getting information when the best information had been gotten by the FBI through bonding with the guy (rather than torturing him - see page 1 of the 2007 article).... ugly, ugly, ugly. And then to see Spokane have a connection to it all... Makes me sad. Spokane is a great place, in spite of itself. But on days like today (and news like this), I wonder why I'm still here.

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