Consult: Grant Marler


A Military Intelligence and Philosophy Consultation

with Grant Marler

December 15, 2008

75-minute teleconference

Transcribed by Jean Maria Arrigo

Reviewed by Grant Marler

Teleconference Participants:  Jean Maria Arrigo, Ray Bennett, Martha Davis, Jancis Long, Grant Marler, and Stephen Soldz

Note:  the transcript has been streamlined a bit.

A Military Intelligence and Philosophy Consultation on

Meanings of Death, Death Threats, and Death Risks for Soldiers

with Grant Marler

ARRIGO:  [Usual introduction of session.]

MARLER:  My name is Grant Marler.  I’m a doctoral student at CGU [Claremont Graduate University], working in philosophy of language mainly.  But I come to know Jean Maria because of her interest in military and intelligence ethics.  And I’m a former air force intelligence officer, a civilian intelligence officer, and, before that, uniformed.

BENNETT:  My name is Ray Bennett.  I’m a retired Army chief warrant officer.  My specialty was interrogation for over twenty years.  I retired two years ago.  And I’m involved with a group of psychologists because we’re discussing the interface between psychology and interrogation, and I’m here as the subject-matter expert on my side of the discussion.

DAVIS:  Martha Davis.  I’m a clinical psychologist, and I did research on interviews for many, many years, and got involved in the business of psychologists’ involvement in detainee interrogations.  I’ve recently done a documentary about that.

SOLDZ:  I’m a clinical and research psychologist in Boston and have been very involved in the interrogations issue and have written many articles on the topic.

LONG:  We’re also expecting Jancis Long, who is President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

ARRIGO:  The problem here that we’re trying to address is that soldiers expect that they’re at risk of death, for certain kinds of death.  But psychologists are involved in other sorts of death or just of death, like in experiments.  Then there’s possible death by mishap, and so on.  We need some help with sorting it out. 

     I’m passing back to you now, Grant.

MARLER:  I haven’t spent very long with the literature.  I focused mainly on the recent account of the counterintelligence soldier who has returned from Iraq with injuries and a cancer possibly caused by exposure to toxins in theater.  I found that case very compelling.  I’m not sure exactly what aspects I can reflect on that would be of interest from a psychological standpoint.

     For me, the most interesting parts, as a philosopher, were his questions about the meaningfulness of a death.  That’s a difficult one.  Most soldiers do have a certain range of types of death that they consider consistent with their mission, which they accept:  “Ways I could die”  And certainly this soldier:  “I know I’m going to be a the pointed end of the stick and I could die directly, a combat death.  But also, of course, there’s fratricide.  We know that happens.”  So he was willing to accept a range of other ways of dying, which he thought were consistent with a soldier’s role in wartime, and which he thought were honorable and perhaps meaningful ways to die.

LONG:  Hello, I just want to say this is Jancis Long [comes on the line].  I didn’t want to interrupt.

MARLER:  Okay, then I’ll just go on unless someone wants to comment at this point.

ARRIGO:  My comment would just be that to get the whole range of problems here, there are also soldiers under psychological stress experiments being led to believe that they’re going to die, or to kill somebody else, who wasn’t a legitimate target.  And then the other one is soldiers being used in experiments, like at the Nevada Test Site, where they were told they weren’t going to die, but, in fact, lots of them were going to contract fatal illness.  So there’s a little bit bigger range of problems.

MARLER:  Yes, indeed.

     Most of us reading this say there is just something inherently indecent about not providing information that would somehow have moral significance to this person.  And then I was driven to ask the question:  does any organization have an obligation to provide information solely on the basis of its moral significance.  Of course, there are many prudential reasons you would want tell someone that they’re in danger, or what have you.  But if you distill it down to the moral crux, what if there was no other advantage to come from it but simply to satisfy what might be of moral significance to the subject?  That seems to be the rub for me.

ARRIGO:  Now when you say “moral,” do you mean, in this case, just having to do with his interpretation of the meaning, or that the person could actually take some steps?  In the burn-pit situation, there was no step he could take.

MARLER:  I mean, apart from practical issues of steps you could take prudentially in the interests of the subject or to further the mission or whatever — which have to be addressed, of course.  But I became interested in the question, if you abstract away all those questions:  does an organization have an obligation to a person to provide knowledge of a person’s situation that you referred to in your write-up as moral significance to that person.  Is there an obligation to provide any kind of meaningful context for what’s going on or what’s happening to this person?

ARRIGO:  A very, very sharp example of that would be in the case of Mr. J — I don’t know whether you had an opportunity to read that case —

MARLER:  I did, yes.

ARRIGO:  At least in the case of DeBatto, with the burn pits, there were a zillion people who were subject to that and he had other ways to find out about it.  But Mr. J had no other way to find out.

MARLER:  Right.  He would have to have been told by those who knew.  Of course, they did not disclose that information.  What was their moral obligation to do that?  I’m trying to get at more than that just someone could have behaved differently or acted differently.  When you raise the question of the meaningfulness of a person’s death and they feel cheated by not having been told of something that would lead to their premature death, exactly what is the nature of the injury there?  So this is a question that came up for me.

     In the question of the burn pit, of course, there we can say that this is a combination of bureaucratic stupidity and — Even the very people who were in a position to make a decision were probably being affected by the smoke.  It’s that kind of negligence.  It’s somewhat different.

DAVIS:  Could I ask a question of you or of Ray?  Is there any explicit, Army spoken contract with an enlisted person about the Army’s obligation to protect?  When you enlist in the Army, is there any kind of written code that says, “We will do good by you,” even given the exigencies of combat?

BENNETT:  I could harken back to when I went to get promoted to buck sergeant.  You have to go in front of a board, and you’re asked what are the two basic duties and responsibilities of an NCO (non-commissioned officer).  And the answer is:  accomplishment of the mission and welfare of the troops.

DAVIS:  So everybody on up the chain of command has a responsibility to protect the troops.

BENNETT:  I think they have a responsibility if they are aware of what the danger is.  If they’re unaware of the danger, then we can’t hold them accountable that they place somebody in danger.  So there’s a line there that we have to clearly identify.  But once they are aware, according to the creed of the non-commissioned officer corps, they are responsible for the welfare of their soldiers.  You know, accomplishment of the mission is the other part. And those two can come in conflict.  How can I say “the welfare of the soldier” and then take him into combat? 

     But I’d like to see a justification of how an open pit where trash is burned is construed, that that became part of the mission that overrode the welfare of the troops.

DAVIS:  It actually jeopardized the missions because they were sickened by it while they were on duty, just to add a detail. 

BENNETT:  That’s my end.  I’d like to hear from Mr. Marler.

MARLER:  What I was find most shocking about the report was that apparently the Inspector General took no action.  If the chain of command fails, the Inspector General should be the impartial judge, outside the chain, to address the question of basic justice of the troops.  I find it disturbing that it was brought to the attention of the inspector general and no action was taken.  If the chain of command does it, you see it as negligence perhaps.  When the Inspector General does not respond, you see it as the system is just broken.  I don’t know exactly what measures were taken there. — I don’t know if that caught your eye, reading, Ray.

BENNETT:  I did not see a reference to an Inspector General report.  I just read the Army Times article, which I found disturbing in that all it said was, General [David] Petraeus, the chief of U.S. Central Command, said that “much effort has gone into locating/relocating pits in remote areas of the operating bases to minimize exposure.”  [Laughter]  “Minimize” is not the same as “eliminate.”

MARLER:  Nevertheless, wherever the pits are, they’re always within an encampment.  It’s not as though they’re out in the middle of the desert.

BENNETT:  If the wind shifts, suddenly what was once before remote is not very much present.

ARRIGO:  Grant, I want to go back to your abstract question:  does any organization have an obligation to provide knowledge of this sort.  I wonder if we would look at the military as a special kind of organization.  Unlike, say, Toyota cars, which is not asking anybody to sacrifice anything for a moral purpose, the military does have this moral foundation.

MARLER:  But the professionalism found in the military, which is the reason that the NCOs and the Officer Corps are considered professionals, is because of this greater good.  Otherwise, they’d just be ordinary specialists.  But when you take on the mantle of leadership, you do have this responsibility for the well being, not only physically, but I think also mentally and perhaps, to a certain extent, I would say cautiously, spiritually, for your troops.  Would you leave one of your troops demoralized if you could do something about it?  I think not.  I don’t think any good officer would do that.

     But I would submit that even Toyota has obligations of this kind.  As Ralph Nader made very clear, the car companies do have an obligation to the greater good.  Simply to sell their products is too short-sighted.

LONG:  As you were speaking, I was thinking also of the tobacco companies. 

     But I want to go back to what Jean Maria was talking about.  Is there a moral obligation to provide meaningful information for somebody who may be going to die for something you know but they don’t know.  That’s what I take it that you were arguing.  I wonder whether anywhere the ethical codes that different officers have, not just their responsibilities for the welfare of the troops — Is this kind of thing mentioned all for when one is responsible for telling someone of danger of which they are not aware and which is not necessarily part of the mission?

MARLER:  I’m not aware of any specific code.

BENNETT:  I’m not aware of any such.

DAVIS:  I’m wondering if this was comparable to a doctor’s obligation to divulge to a patient when there’s nothing more that can be done.  Is that analogous to what we’re talking about?

MARLER:  Yes, that’s exactly what I had in mind.  The decent thing to do, of course, is not to let the patient die without knowledge. 

     I would love to have a clear definition of what kind of knowledge would be morally significant — I think it was Jean Maria who used that expression in her write-up, morally significant.  You’d like to think to whatever information, when brought to bear, would either change the determination of a moral decision or perhaps shed light on the value of one’s life.  But it’s really difficult to articulate what that would to mean.

ARRIGO:  We had an example of that in World War II with the pilots who were sent over to drop the bombs on Japan.  The whole plane crews didn’t know what they were doing until they were aloft, and one of them complained bitterly about this.  So that’s another case, where you’re sent off to do something which could kill people that you weren’t expecting to kill.

MARLER:  It’s difficult for a soldier because it’s your duty to bring the war to the enemy.  I don’t know what you think, Ray, about that.

BENNETT:  That is difficult, that balancing act that we have between the accomplishment of the mission and the welfare of the troops.  In the case of those that were sent to drop the bombs on Japan, I would have to say that the mission came first on that particular one, because it was of direct military significance.  Burning trash in an open pit, I’m not buying that one.

ARRIGO:  One thing I heard, I interviewed some atomic veterans from the Nevada Test Site.  One of the reactions they got from American Legion people, who thought they weren’t real combat veterans — The argument ran like this:  “You were willing to give your life for your country.”  They’d signed up to do that.  “The fact that you were irradiated at the Nevada Test Site, we needed to run those tests anyway for our security, so you just gave your life that way.  In fact, you even lived longer than some of the people who went out in the Korean War and got direct hits.  So shut up and stop complaining.”

     Here’s a guy, he’s in combat in Korea.  He comes back and is stationed at the Nevada Test Site and he gets irradiated and terrible things happen to his children, birth defects, and so on.  But that’s the attitude of other veterans towards him, that he was going to give his life anyway.  The fact that he had this delayed affliction, as a result of experiments he was put in, was no big deal, was part of his military agreement. 

DAVIS:  But that case raises a really interesting detail.  If I enlist I can risk my life, but do I sign up to risk the lives of my children?  Especially something so severe as a major physical defect or a handicap.

ARRIGO:  Well, that’s exactly what they said.

DAVIS:  And the same is true of the burn pits now, if that’s brought out.  There are chemicals there that are probably going to affect birth patterns. 

MARLER:  I could appreciate, I think, from a soldier’s point of view the difference in, say, the meaning of a sacrifice.  It would be one thing, of course, to be injured or to die as a result of a rocket attack, obviously at the pointed end of the stick.  But then we’re going to have many veterans who will suffer the effects of these burn pits, and also depleted uranium all over the battlefield.  We don’t know the effects of that over the long term.  What kind of sacrifice is that?

     We have a heroic notion of what it means to go to war and what kind of sacrifices you’re willing to make to do that.  I was reminded of the story, The Epic of Gilgamesh.  I don’t know if you know the story, but [King of Uruk, Sumaria] Gilgamesh’es friend Enkidu also becomes a hero.  But he is punished by the Gods to die from sickness, an inglorious death, not on the battlefield.  It’s depicted as a shameful death in a way.  Certainly it’s not a soldier’s death.  Although we know, in wartime, many people die of illness.  It used to be mainly contagious disease of course but now it’s this other more insidious sickness.  So there is a question of image:  “I’ll go to war.  I want to make a sacrifice for my country.  But certain kinds of sacrifice don’t fit with my picture....”  It’s not a new debate, of course.  It starts with the Civil War, when soldiers start just getting mown down.  And people are asking the question, “Is this warfare?”  And then people dying in the trenches in the First World War.  Now it’s become so capricious, but that’s modern warfare.

LONG:  It’s my understanding that there’s a huge amount of accidental death around battlefield situations and Army mustering of weapons and things like that, as a result of having been part of the operation.

MARLER:  I know it’s not my military experience.  My great fear was just to die on some aircraft, because that was the most common way.  Even in peacetime, many people are lost from vehicle or aircraft accident.

SOLDZ:  Certainly in Iraq there’s been quite a lot of vehicle accidents.

ARRIGO:  So what meaning is attached to these kinds of deaths, like people who were going in transport ships to Germany in World War I and died of the flu before they got there and these vehicle deaths, and so.  How do people understand this?

MARLER:  Perhaps it is part of the heroic tradition.  But we want to think that the death gives meaning to the life.  To die in battle seems to give a different meaning to the experience of a soldier’s life than — I know, in the air force tradition, you’ll hear many pilots say, “When I go, I want to go down in a blaze of glory.”  They say that!  It’s actually a horrible way to die.  But that’s an ideal for them.  They certainly don’t envision dying in a transport accident.  That’s not what they would consider the most meaningful way to go.  So I think that this notion is really part of the military culture as well, even though we know, statistically, that there are fewer deaths of that kind.  Fewer glorious, so to speak, deaths. 

     But I think there are many professional soldiers who stop viewing it that way.  They tend to say, “What makes a life meaningful is the way you lived your life.  The way you die is simply an accident.”  Probably that’s not the usual culture.

DAVIS:  There may be a hierarchy of honorable service deaths.  Falling on a grenade and saving five of your fellow soldiers is the like at the peak of honorable.  A pilot going down is honorable.  Have an accident is still honorable duty.  Maybe I’m being sort of naive here.  It seems that the Iraq War has put particular focus on dishonorable conditions that enhance the deaths in accidents, like the no armor on the Humvees and stuff like that, that somehow there’s been more focus on that, although, God knows, it must be since time immemorial that Army’s haven’t equipped the people correctly.  But we seem to be talking about levels of honorable and then getting into dishonorable, as far as what the Army is contributing to the deaths.

MARLER:  I don’t know how much this is the case in the Army.  But certainly stateside there is so much overuse of the word “hero,” or “heroic.”  And, of course, soldiers carry this with them.  I think it used to be the case — and, Ray, you could shed some light on this — the emphasis used to be simply on serving with honor.  Even if you didn’t serve in combat, when you did your stint in the military, you’d get out and say, “I served with honor.”  And that was a mark of pride.  Of course, soldiers who do serve with honor still feel that.  But there’s such an overuse and, I feel, cheapening of the word “hero.”  Many soldiers with whom I’ve spoken say, “Yes, people don’t understand what it means just to  be there, that just living there from day-to-day is serving, surviving and so forth, in those conditions.”

     What we’ve done, we’ve come to define military service as this moment in which you die heroically, or not, as though somehow it would cheapen your service in some way.  I’m not sure that I’m putting this quite right.

SOLDZ:  How does this fit in with the transformation whereby U.S. deaths are radically reduced from what they were, say, in the Vietnam and previous eras?  In fact, don’t we have a much higher rate of wounded survivors?

MARLER:  I don’t think there’s a full appreciation of just how enormous that population is because —as you mentioned, Martha? — there were numbers coming back with various illnesses, not to mention PTSD.  Do I don’t think we know the full picture yet about that.  It raises questions within the Just War tradition, of course, if the doctrine of overwhelming force is in some sense unjust.  Should we fight wars in which, in fact, our risk is very limited in proportion to the enemy’s.  But that’s maybe a separate question.  The risk that we’re running, of course, is the long term injuries and illnesses.

DAVIS:  Stephen, there seemed to be a theme that if you survived with a major injury or a PTSD, it clouds the honorableness of your service almost.

SOLDZ:  The number of people suffering these heroic deaths has declined, and I was wondering if that might lead to a greater emphasis on that myth.  Also, the point that you’re making that we have a much larger percentage surviving with very serious, or sometimes incapacitating, injuries.

LONG:  I would like to add that there’s been such an effort to not bring it forward, to not let it be seen—

DAVIS:  As if it were a shame and not heroic —

LONG:  And because it reminds people of the horror of the person living year after year with this mangled body and mind.  It seems to me it very much questions the ethics of the war, those two soundingly simple things of complete your mission and care for the welfare of the soldiers.  It’s almost impossible to care for the welfare of the soldiers in a situation like this.

ARRIGO:  Could you help us with the problem of psychologists here?  We have the problem of psychologists coming in at a couple of points.  One is, running experiments, like at the Nevada Test Site, and then psychological stress experiments, where people were made to believe they were going to die.  The most poignant example of this is the Air Bubble Experiment, where the soldier thinks he’s got two minutes to live and this is not a combat situation.  So that’s one kind of thing, the experiments.  And the other kind is where the psychologists are bystanders who, because of their expertise, would be expected of dangers and don’t come forward.

MARLER:  On the question of the psychologists, I guess this is an area that the profession of psychologists themselves will have to deal with, a question of professional ethics.  The psychologists who are performing the experiments must be on the fringe, I imagine, but I don’t know.

DAVIS:  That’s a good question.  [Laughter]  We wish we know.

LONG:  This is one of the things we’re trying to find out with this whole Casebook—

DAVIS:  how central they are.

DAVIS:  But it’s interesting as a question of mass culture.  The earlier experiments were done during the Cold War, which was, as we know, a tremendous experiment in mass propaganda.  So the mood could easily lead to someone accepting, even if they knew, accepting the risk of exposing themselves to radiation.  And not very much was known about the effects of small doses at that time. 

     Recently we have a different kind of hysteria, if you’ll excuse that kind of language.  “We have to understand what troops will do.  A new kind of warfare is arriving.”  Of course, similar language was used in the Cold War.  “We’re going to have a new kind of warfare, and soldiers might be tough in certain ways.”  We need to justify a lot of that.  I simply offer that.  Although I hope the psychologists are on the fringe of the profession, they were still operating within a broader mass culture that seems to have been extremely powerful at the time.

I guess I’m submitting here that the military and the intelligence communities are not politically insulated by any means and that, when these movements begin, there will always be some elements within these organizations that get the impetus to move forward in these extreme ways.

ARRIGO:  What some of the Atomic Veterans actually said was:  “Yes, I was ready to give my life for my country, and I think that we had to do those experiments, so count me in.  But once it was over, then we should have been told.”  He [Ken Kendall] really held the military at fault because he wasn’t told about the possibilities of genetic problems for his children.

DAVIS:  Like genetic counseling.  He had a right to genetic counseling.

ARRIGO:  He didn’t think that the experiments shouldn’t have been done on him secretly, but he felt that they should have come forward afterwards.

MARLER:  Going back to the beginning of our discussion — of course, genetic counseling has a very important practical benefit — but the simple moral obligation to inform a person of something that has a significance for the value of their life, for the meaningfulness of their life experience.  How would you codify, how could anyone codify that kind of obligation?  My reaction is:  it’s the decent thing to do.  But how can you translate that into a policy?

DAVIS:  Is there a risk-benefit question, Jean Maria, like the Army wouldn’t risk telling everybody because they would be telling trade secrets or something?

ARRIGO:  Actually there was discussion at the time of the testing about whether soldiers should be given recognition for what they were going through.  And the reason they weren’t — this was through Stafford Warren, the Chief Medical Officer — was that they knew [the authorities] knew people would come down with cancer, but people come down with cancer anyway, and they didn’t know how, in the future, they could separate out the ones who got cancer at the Test Site from everybody else and they would have this huge, huge mess of medical obligations and expenses. 

DAVIS:  So the people who got cancer from being exposed to radiation did not get VA medical care?

ARRIGO:  Well, some of them got VA medical care, but what they didn’t get was any restitution.

MARLER:  Ordinarily, if you get a service-derived injury, you will get disability payments in addition to your veterans care.

DAVIS:  So they didn’t get that.

ARRIGO:  For instance, one guy [Fred Allingham], his father was in the Marine cleanup of Nagasaki and died of leukemia two years later as young man, leaving three children and a destitute wife.  If  he had been hit by a bomb, the family would have been given some compensation.  But because of this there was nothing.

LONG: We had the same thing with Agent Orange, didn’t we, and also the Gulf War Syndrome?  Agent Orange did work its way into affecting the next generation.

SOLDZ:  The implications of admitting things, as I understand it, has also occurred in Iraq, where, for example, if you were trying to evade being hit [in a vehicle] and you’re moving at 80 miles an hour and you have an accident, that’s not a combat accident.  So you don’t get all the combat benefits and everything.  And also if you die you’re not included in the statistics for combat deaths.

ARRIGO:  Grant, could you write this policy for us?  Just imagine how you would go into it.  [Laughter]

MARLER:  I don’t know.  The problem is that many of these things are being done by rogue organizations anyway.  As we saw with the interrogations, these are organizations that have attempted to exempt themselves, or have been exempted in some cases, even by the White House, from the ordinary rules of behavior.  So how can you write rules of behavior for those whose mission is predicated on avoiding rules?

DAVIS:  The military does have the rule, as you said, Ray.  You have two things:  the mission and the care of the soldiers.  There must be operational definitions of what are violations of care of soldiers.  If you’re in charge of a base and the base has a huge gaping health hazard that you don’t take care of for five years, isn’t there a way to operationally define that?

BENNETT:  That would fall under dereliction of duty.  But a prerequisite, again, is awareness, that you’re doing nothing despite enough evidence there that you should take action and you don’t.

DAVIS:  So there are criteria for that, and there are actions that follow from that, that the administration couldn’t veto or simply say that these don’t count anymore.  Right?

BENNETT:  Well, it would be just like the civilian justice system.  The way you get around that is that you don’t prosecute.  It’s not that it’s made right.  It’s just that it’s not pursued.

DAVIS:  Right.  But there’s an extra step that’s being taken around the interrogations, which is to deem them legal in ways that they weren’t before.  That’s an extra step, right?

BENNETT:  I view it as an extra step.  For example, attaching the signing statements to the laws.  They gave the White House the authority to exempt people at will.  That’s an extra step, I would say.  I consider another extra step to actively find ways to get around the Geneva Conventions to come up with new terms for people you’ve detained, so they’re not afforded rights under the Geneva Conventions.  These are all active steps. 

DAVIS:  What would a signing statement be for the burn pits?  What would they possibly say, besides just a blanket pardon for anybody involved.

BENNETT:  They’re going to try and say that it’s military necessity, that the trash had to be disposed of, et cetera, et cetera, for health reasons.  There are health risks when you’re surrounded by trash, too.  That’s the argument that they’ll likely try to make.  Interesting in this article is that they’ve said in this report, it says right here:  “Military report found toxin levels in the plume at acceptable level; however, data on testing of particulate matter in that plume has not yet been released.” 

SOLDZ:  Funny about that.

BENNETT:  [unintelligible] to paraphrase Arte Johnson.

LONG:  Has a case been brought in this to court or anything?

DAVIS:  Apparently, it just became news, didn’t it, Jean Maria, in November?

ARRIGO:  I’m going to recommend that we try to get a consult with somebody who can talk to us more directly about the burn pits but now go back to Grant for help with the death issues. 

One thing, Grant, since some of us are psychologists trying to go at this, you said, “Well, it’s going to be hard to write a regulation,” as it were, [about authorities providing knowledge of “moral significance]”, so maybe psychologists could give some help in talking about this.

MARLER:  What one would like to see is perhaps a statement from the APA — 

[Laughter from others]

BENNETT:  Good luck with that!

DAVIS:  You’re lucky not to be involved with them.  They are a horror.

MARLER:  Oh, I see. 

     If you call yourself a professional organization, that’s what makes you the professional that you are, that you work in the public interest, or for the public good.  So I think it’s an appropriate role for that organization.  But that’s from an outsider’s perspective.

ARRIGO:  Now say a little more about what the statement would do. 

MARLER:  One would be:  “We, as an organization, do not approve of psychologists providing certain kinds of support for certain kinds of, say, experiments on, say, soldiers or” — I don’t know which issues we’re talking about here.  But we’ve heard, for instance, of psychologists getting involved in these stress tests in which they are purely operatives for the military and, apparently, not playing a role primarily to protect a patient.  It’s probably already against the code of ethics at the APA.

SOLDZ:  Actually, the ethics code was modified in 2002 to say that, basically, that you can do anything under government authority.  You don’t need informed consent, and you don’t have to worry about any of the implications that you would otherwise.  It went in exactly the opposite direction.

MARLER:  That’s rather sweeping.

SOLDZ:  I’m exaggerating a bit.  They completely dispensed with the need for informed consent if government law or order or regulation says that it’s not needed.

ARRIGO:  But how do we address the situation where the stress experiment just scares the daylights out of people but —

SOLDZ:  I think maybe we should make an issue of it.  The times are different that 2002.

ARRIGO:  But I’m speaking of having to do with death.  If you just scare the daylights out of somebody to believe that they’re dying, is that different from scaring the daylights out of somebody to think that going to be insured?  I’m a Catholic, and I think that if I die I’d better have that last two seconds to confess, which is different from breaking my leg.  Is that a moral argument that one can make, Grant, that being put in fear of your death is somehow different from these other things?

MARLER:  I’m grappling with it, because I feel there is some fundamental indecency about that, that death is a kind of threshold which, morally, one should not play.  But, morally, I don’t know how you codify that. 

     In the first place, what constitutes moral significance with respect to one’s death would vary for very many people.  If you were a knight of the 13th Century, you would want, ideally, to lie down facing Jerusalem, with your arms in the shape of a cross.  How can we know what information is required by someone to prepare for a death.  And when do we disturb someone psychologically, unjustifiably, by threatening them with death? 

     This is why I think so many people are shocked by the idea of waterboarding.  The proponents say:  “Well, yes, if you want to get a rise out of somebody you threaten them with death,” right, by this purely instrumental means.  It’s particularly egregious, it seems to me, in terms of a person’s agency, because to be confronted with one’s death does seem to have a particular moral significance.  It’s hard to define, but....  It’s not like threatening them, “I’m going to play rock and roll all day,” although I think that’s egregious enough.  [Laughter]

LONG:  What I’d really like to ask Ray and Grant is, how much does this get talked about in the Army?  Not just officially, but the notion of people being threatened by death or the notion of officers threatening people, “Oh, we could send you off on a very dangerous mission”?  I suspect this must happen not too frequently but it must be a known thing that in those circumstances people who are upstarts or say things that the mission doesn’t like that they do get threats. I don’t know.  Is that something that happens?

BENNETT:  We don’t dwell on it.  We don’t have discussions to say, “Military pensions notwithstanding, there are some distinct drawbacks to my job.”  I have to say that, in my experience, I’ve done it for 25 years, the only conversation I remember, and it wasn’t even a conversation — In Desert Storm a member of my team kept playing, “Blaze of Glory” by Bon Jovie, where the refrain was, “I want to go down in a blaze of glory,” or something like that.  I just made it clear that he was speaking for himself.  You know, I kept playing the song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”  [Laughter]

DAVIS:  That’s a threat!

SOLDZ:  Now we know everything we need to know about you.  [laughter]

BENNETT:  There you go.

ARRIGO:  Okay, I think now we’re down to time for last questions and comments.  How about if we go in this order:  Stephen, Martha, Ray, Jancis, Jean Maria?

SOLDZ:  I don’t have a question at this point.

DAVIS:  It seems to me that this question about the very special nature of informing somebody about their closeness to death must have a literature within medicine.  I remember my colleagues, who were residents 35 years ago, would talk about, they had to do rounds and they were trained to lie from patient to patient in the cancer unit.  At some point that changed.  And so there must be a movement within medical ethics where they actually discuss that explicitly, the ethical imperative of informing people if they were terminal.  I would seek — I’m not proposing to take on this job — I would think that there would be a literature on this, and it might be relevant, Jean Maria, for your wish for guidelines in these [national security] contexts.

BENNETT:  I have no question now.  I’d just like to thank Mr. Marler for his time.

MARLER:  Oh, my pleasure.

LONG:  Thank you very, very much.  I would like to hear another consult with Mr. Marler, because I feel that you have thought very deeply about these very questions that we’re trying to grapple with.

I think you teach soldiers, do you, now?

MARLER:  No, I teach ordinary college students.

LONG:  You teach philosophy? 

MARLER:  Yes, I do.

LONG:  I just felt in your commentary that there was a wealth of things we hadn’t probably talked about. 

     My continued interest is in what organizations like the Army or the medical profession try to keep the ethics what they should be and then what they do about the transgression, how they use the very skills that they have to transgress human rights or transgress their very own ethics, and then how the whistleblowers are the ones that get blamed rather than the people who were doing it.  I think that sociologically it’s a fantastically difficult and rich situation.  So I thank you very much.  I don’t have a question, but I’d like to hear some of the other cases that you might comment on.  Thank you.

ARRIGO:  We have almost fifteen minutes.  Grant, I would like to ask you if we can go through the cases and, by great flight of imagination, to imagine that you were there and you would have an opportunity to brief people.  What could you say, either to the [vulnerable] person or to his commander or to his chaplain, maybe beginning with the case that is dearest to my heart, which is the case of Mr. J.

     Just to refresh everybody, Mr. J was in covert ops just after World War II in Southeast Asia.  He was captured, then got out [escaped], then had some kind of mind control to give him amnesia after this, possibly with drugs and hypnosis.  This all came out when he was an elderly man and had some severe medical problems.  He was found speaking a Southeast Asian language, using his cane or whatever for a weapon.  Anyway, it all came out that this is what happened to him, but he lived his whole life with amnesia for this.  I would like to hear your response, Grant, if you could be the debriefer, as it were.

MARLER:  As you know, some philosophers actually opine that all we are is this continuity of our perceptions. I’m thinking particularly of David Hume.  And even he is not quite sure about this, but he says, “If we’re anything, we are the continuation of perceptions.”  From that viewpoint, it seems a tremendous offense against a person to deny them their perceptions, so that they don’t really know who they are.  How distressing it must be, not only to have the later injury that Mr. J had but then to realize that he lost years of his life.  It’s very distressing.  To compound that, he lost them because he was tinkered with, so to speak.

     What could I tell the people who performed this?  I don’t know.  I know that the US had done a lot of this research.  The USSR had done even more psychological research and experiments on amnesia and so forth.  I don’t think it would be possible for one voice to be present and to advise, or to be a dissenting voice, in such a case.  As we said before, this is part of such an overwhelming sociological groundswell, in which such measures come to seem appropriate.  A small price to pay....  And indeed it could even be seen as being in the person’s interest to have amnesia, considering where you’re sending them.  So I don’t know what I could say, if I were the little voice on someone’s shoulder:  “Consider what you are doing to this person!”  I don’t know that I could offer any advice that would be terribly compelling.

ARRIGO:  Is there any limit on the kinds of sacrifices that soldiers can be asked to make?  You remember Prof. Rood.  We talked to him early on.  He had said to me once:  “Well, soldiers are expected to pay with their lives, but they not expected to pay out their souls.”  That is poetic way of saying it, but I think that would cover Mr. J’s case. 

MARLER:  At least viewed from a religious perspective.  One of the aspects of having a soul, and perhaps the reason we have souls, is that we have this freedom of will.  If indeed there are God-given souls, that would be reason that we have individual souls, that we have freedom.  You deny a person their freedom, you’ve denied them their personhood in a profound way.  So, as difficult as it might be to define a soul, certainly a soul that does not have agency is a considerably hindered one, at the very least. 

ARRIGO: We should look at that under “agency.”

     If we go on to the victims or subjects of the psychological stress experiments, like the Air Bubble Experiment, where the guy thinks he has two minutes to live – We don’t know what the debriefing was in that experiment.

DAVIS:  If you were on the Institutional Review Board reviewing that research, what would you say?

MARLER:  Well, of course, the psychologist, after being fired — But, of course, from a utilitarian standpoint you can make arguments that, “What is this really going to prove?”

BENNETT:  Ray had an idea about that.  He said:  “It happens lots of times in war.  People know they just have two minutes to live.  And can you get any military value out of them at that point?”

MARLER:  I think that answer is, yes.

BENNETT:  I’d just like to have the record reflect that I had an idea.

[Much laughter, as participants get the joke.]

SOLDZ:  That’s not what I thought you were going to say.

DAVIS:  I thought you were going to take that suggestion back.

MARLER:  You know, there were so many tests, particularly of the nuclear crews, the [missile] silo crews — They’re about to release Armageddon.  They also know that they are targets.  You’re going to launch your weapon, then wait to obliterated.  So there were lots of psychological tests:  Would people have the moral fortitude to carry through with this is the last two minutes of their lives?  And I haven’t seen all the results of that, but my impression was that they thought that, yes, mainly through training you would do [it].  I should add that they’re also armed.  You actually have to have two people in a launch.  Both people must turn the key simultaneously to arm the weapon.  But if one refuses, the other one has the weapon and can use it.  Of course, we’ll never know.

ARRIGO:  Where could we find these experiments?

MARLER:  I don’t know.  Strategic Air Command — I don’t know if any of that has been declassified.  It may have been.  It might be possible to get Freedom of Information Act material on that.

ARRIGO:  And then, getting tot he burn pits.  It’s a little far-fetched, I guess, to expect the psychologists to take the responsibility.  But, as far as the medical doctors, Steve Miles, a physician who studies these things said, well, there weren’t very many doctors assigned to epidemiology, public health, overview issues.  They were mainly involved in individual care.  So I think we have to imagine that there wasn’t any doctor whose military responsibility was to deal with this.  But they would at least have known the stakes.

DAVIS:  But they were treating people with symptoms.  I would think that they would be directly responsible.  There were symptoms on the spot, as well as what we can project. 

     I think the medical profession is coming out of the Iraq War looking unbelievable delinquent.  And this is just another chapter.  They did have a safety person telling the commander that this was a bad situation and giving reports, but the doctors themselves had headaches.  Don’t they have more responsibility because they know the consequences of these chemicals?

ARRIGO:  That’s what I’m asking Grant.  Does have more knowledge make one more morally responsible.

MARLER:  Yes, having the knowledge makes you obliged to act.  I believe so.  But there are people who are in a position who are obliged to get the knowledge.  It goes both ways.

     I have a friend.  I’ll ask him.  He wouldn’t speak publicly, I think, because he’s in uniform.  He’s a junior officer.  He’s a combat medical administrator.  I might just ask him what is the ordinary way of dealing with public health threats of this kind in theater.

DAVIS:  That would be very interesting.

LONG:  Have we actually had a medical doctor speaking as a consultant here.

ARRIGO:  No, we haven’t.

LONG:  I think it could be very interesting to hear a military medical doctor speaking on some of these things.

ARRIGO:  Well, actually we did have a military psychiatrist at our original meeting, but she was not willing to go on record at all.  So we had a problem.

LONG:  Especially someone who knows the physical medicine.

DAVIS:  It probably would have to be somebody who is retired.

MARLER:  For possible points of contact, I don’t know about the psychological literature, but there is a fairly large body of philosophical literature about the obligation to inform [unintelligible]. 

ARRIGO:  How would you access it?

MARLER:  I’m not sure.  But I could just ask a friend of mine who’s a bioethicist and works as a consultant at Pomona Valley Hospital.  He regularly sits on boards that review these medical cases.

ARRIGO:  Who does the informing?  Is it the doctor or somebody else in the hospital?

MARLER:  I think the usual process now, including, of course, the family, will sit down.  This person’s role, as the bioethicist, is to help frame the questions and, of course, to insure that the patient’s rights are being met.  Exactly how those rights are defined, I’m not quite sure.  But for hospitals that deal with it, and most major hospitals do now have these boards for terminally ill patients, it’s pretty well codified.

ARRIGO:  I can imagine that various commanders wouldn’t have the social skills or the emotional scope to deal with something like this.

MARLER:  I would say not, no.  But when you get to different levels of medical care, I’m sure that you do.  Once you get on board the airlift, there are nurses who are trained to work with injured patients.

ARRIGO:  We’re still feeling our way in this project.  But as we get along further with some of these ideas that you’ve given us, I hope that we’ll be able to get back to you again in a few months.

MARLER:  I’d like that.  In the meantime, I’ll speak, at least informally, to these two contacts I mentioned and get a broader perspective.

[Closing business.  Thanks and goodbyes all around.]