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.
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.
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.
Opponents of the program have launched a petition to stop the school from opening the center. The petition, titled “Don’t Open a Department of Defense Training Center at Yale”, has already received 332 signatures out of a goal of 1,000.