A new play by Patricia Davis
An Iraqi doctor is detained, suspected of treating an Al-Qaeda leader. With the clock ticking, interrogators must quickly get the doctor to reveal where the safe house is. Susan, a young interrogation psychologist, witnesses severe acts of torture that still yield no intelligence. She takes matters into her own hands.
The play stems from my long connection with survivors of torture. I began it in 2006, frustrated with the deep involvement of the US government in torture and the seeming helplessness and passivity of those of us who paid for it with our taxes. I wanted to examine the mechanisms that might lead a person who opposes torture to remain silent in the face of it. And I wanted to convey the human suffering caused by torture, a suffering I knew well after spending three years writing a book with my friend Dianna Ortiz (The Blindfold’s Eyes: My Journey from Torture to Truth), detailing her torture and its long-term effects. The element of suffering is often left out of the debate on torture—understandably. The politicians, academics, and pundits who dominate that debate have never sat down with a survivor of torture to discuss and understand what torture is and what it does. For them, torture is an abstraction. As long as it remains so, there will always be people who will argue for it. The play is an attempt to clothe the abstraction in flesh.
“a wonderful articulation of the moral conflict inherent in attempting to parse the value of the lives of the ‘unknown many’ verses one single, actual life ... Davis draws each of her characters as both corrupted and decent individuals ... very well-written and performed ... very successful.” Washington City Paper
“ ... it is ... about examining the different viewpoints surrounding torture, those who practice torture and those whose lives it affects. I found myself engrossed in the arguments presented by the different views in the play ...” New York Theater Review (which chose “Alternative Methods” as a recommended pick among plays in the New York International Fringe Festival)
“It's a harrowing situation completely based on fact ... an informative and at times terrifying lesson into the depths of human cruelty.” nytheater.com
“A moving presentation about the issue of torture. Davis has written a very good first play.”
Set in Iraq in 2007, Alternative Methods explores indefinite detention, learned helplessness, and the deep involvement of psychologists in torture.
Psychologists have played and may be continuing to play a central role in developing interrogation plans that exploit detainees’ physical and psychological weaknesses.
General Geoffrey Miller, who created the interrogation Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs), believed the teams were “essential in developing integrated interrogation strategies and assessing interrogation intelligence production” (Iraq Field Assessment of 2003). Psychologists worked in detention centers in Iraq and at Guantanamo and with CIA interrogators at other sites, as well. They are believed to be working currently at detention sites in Afghanistan
In 2006, the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association banned their members from interrogation work. The American Psychological Association (APA), in contrast, supported the work; the APA believed psychologists had “a valuable and ethical role to assist in protecting our nation, other nations, and innocent civilians from harm.” The APA in 2007 approvingly stated that aiding with interrogations was an area of psychological practice that was “likely to expand significantly in coming years.”
In 2007 the APA drew up guidelines for interrogation work. The guidelines were carefully worded. They prohibited psychologists ‘ direct or indirect participation in interrogations or in any other detainee-related operations using mock executions, water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation, sexual humiliation, rape, cultural or religious humiliation, exploitation of phobias or psychopathology, induced hypothermia.” But there was another group of tactics APA approved involvement in as long as those tactics were used in “other detainee-related operations”—for example, before an interrogation—rather than during the questioning itself. These techniques included the use of psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances; hooding; forced nakedness; stress positions; the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate; physical assault, including slapping or shaking; exposure to extreme heat or cold; and threats of harm or death. APA psychologists could develop strategies using isolation, sensory deprivation, and over-stimulation and/or sleep deprivation, as long as those tactics were used in a manner that did not “represent significant pain or suffering” or in a way that “a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm.”
Under intense pressure from its own members, the APA in 2008 prohibited the involvement of its member psychologists in interrogations. The prohibition is unenforceable, however, because it has not been written into the APA ethics code. The APA is currently allowing psychologists to conduct research on participants without informing them. This is a worrisome occurrence given that in 2005 the Psychological Ethics and National Security Task Force of the APA recommended that psychologists study the efficacy of methods of gathering intelligence—adding that the studies should be devised in a way that would minimize the risk of emotional distress in the “research participants.”
I did extensive research while writing the play. At an early reading a member of the audience suggested that a gun would never be brought into an interrogation room. In an hour of googling I found eight instances of interrogators threatening a detainee with a gun. When I wrote the play, I had heard of the case of Mozzam Begg, and of the technique of making detainees believe their wives were being tortured in the next cell. Detainees' wives and children have been detained and mistreated. The most high-profile case of US hostage taking involves Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. His children were kidnapped and held during his torture. As I was writing the play I learned that doctors were being forced to treat insurgents. Then they would be picked up and interrogated by US forces.
Other cases have been recorded elsewhere, including Abu Ghraib, where wives and children were arrested along with, or following, the arrest of the suspect:
The generosity of many people has allowed this play to come into being. I developed the play with the support of the Playwrights Forum. Thanks to the encouragement and patience of Alison Pruitt, my instructor, and the observations and insights of other workshop participants, Alternative Methods morphed from three pages of notes to a full-length play. It took several years. When I waddled into the workshop, I was pregnant with a baby daughter and an idea. I knew nothing about babies and next to nothing about writing a play. Both survived and grew. In December 2007 a reading at Metro Stage, in Alexandria, Virginia, was arranged through the Playwright’s Forum. The reading was directed by Karen Berman, who made good suggestions for changes. The play was selected for a reading at Urban Stages, in New York, in 2009. Josh Liveright directed the reading and kindly and insightfully guided me to substantive revisions before and after the reading. The play improved vastly as a result. When I decided to enter the Capital Fringe I asked Josh to direct. He agreed not only to direct but also to give me the benefit of his years of experience producing and take on much of that work.
At the New York International Fringe Festival, Josh won an Overall Excellence Award for his direction of the play.
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