This Is Getting Weird

As critics line up to denounce a planned new military special-ops research center relying on New Haven immigrants as test subjects, the idea of the center itself became shrouded in mystery worthy of ... well, special ops.

The matter culminated Friday evening with a statement from Yale that it will not open the center.

Here’s what happened first: A Yale Medical School professor accustomed to hiring New Haven immigrants as research subjects announced that he was in the process of setting up a new center to train Army personnel in how to communicate well with locals during foreign operations, how to get good information from respectful conversations, how to tell when people are lying to you.

Here’s what happened second: News of that planned center’s planned use of New Haven immigrant test subjects set off a firestorm of protest among local immigrant rights activists, as well as opposition on campus. It leaped into the online news media viral vortex. Read about all that here.

Here’s what happened third: Yale announced Thursday night that it will put the project on hold. It said the project had never been approved in the first place, but rather was in the works.

Meanwhile, this happened: The U.S. Special Operations Command confirmed it had given the professor, Charles A. Morgan, a $1.8 million grant to start the center.

Now here’s what happened Friday: That same command issued a correction. It claimed it never gave any money for the center. And it doesn’t plan to. No grant. No center.

Deputy Public Affairs Commissioner Ken McGraw of the command sent out that latest statement. It read: “After a review of the facts, we have determined the information initially provided to and released by this office concerning a center of excellence for operational neuroscience was incorrect. U.S. Special Operations Command has not and will not provide Yale funds to establish a USSOCOM Center for Excellence for Operational Neuroscience. We sincerely apologize for any problems, concerns or confusion releasing the erroneous information has caused Yale, it student body and the citizens of New Haven.”


The Independent posed a longer version of that question to McGraw via email. He responded: “Initially, our office was told funding for the program had been approved. That was the information we used when responding to queries. When we attempted to find supporting documentation, we found out not only had funding not been approved, there is no intention to fund the project. We did not ‘kill’ the project, it was never approved in the first place.”

Professor Morgan himself couldn’t be reached for an explanation.

Just before 6 p.m. on Friday, Yale released a statement that the center will not open:

“No center of this type would be established at Yale without a careful review of the scope of its planned activities and any related ethical issues, but in this case, the review should have occurred at an earlier stage of discussion. A Center for Excellence in Operational Neuroscience will not be established at Yale University.

“Additionally, there have been media reports that a prior research publication co-authored by Charles Morgan involved Arabic-speaking participants. The research leading to this publication was conducted under the auspices of the Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts — not Yale — and the ethical aspects of the research were monitored by both an independent Institutional Review Board (IRB) and a government IRB. Yale’s IRB had no role in this research. Members of the Yale faculty analyzed the data collected by the Draper study and published their findings.

“All human research at Yale is subjected to robust review and must meet Yale’s strict ethical standards, and include procedures to protect the rights and well-being of all participants.

Also on Friday, Junta for Progressive Action, a Latino advocacy group based in Fair haven, released this statement:

“Junta for Progressive Action strongly opposes any actions, programs, centers or any other measures that negatively target and offend the immigrant community of New Haven and beyond.  While we recognize the Yale School of Medicine’s action of *“not moving forward on any such center until we have fully investigated all these issues,*” more clarification is needed from the University as to its role in, and position on torture and interrogation tactics, and the practices of its scholars as it applies to immigrants and vulnerable communities at large. There are still too many questions without enough answers.

“Yale University, the Department of Defense and any other entity must fully address these issues. We request that Yale disassociate itself from Dr. Charles Morgan, repudiate these practices, and repair its potentially flawed relationship with the immigrant community by engaging the targeted communities directly and in substantive ways.

“As a city that has worked to establish itself as a welcoming and inclusive city for immigrants, the idea of targeting immigrants specifically for the purpose of identifying the distinction of how they lie is offensive, disrespectful and out of line with the values of New Haven.  As an organization that works with and reflects the immigrant community, we demand respect, transparency and true inclusion by Yale and any other institution or academic that seeks to engage in activities that affect the immigrant community.

“Junta affirms the voice of our community: military training has no place in communities. It is not the responsibility of hard working immigrants, or any other group, to train the government.  It is, in turn the responsibility of our government to ensure that all people are protected and secure. We demand the security and protection of our immigrant community from any activity that uses our residents to further its own interests.”

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posted by: Curious on February 22, 2013  4:04pm

Now there needs to be a real conversation between the University and the community about what the Investigative Review Board (IRB) does, and how it protects research participants. 

Human research, behavioral or clinical, is done only AFTER a lot of thoughtful and careful review, by a board which INCLUDES members of the community with no other ties to Yale.

Anyone can serve on the IRB:

This should never have spun out of control like this.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 22, 2013  4:47pm

who’s on first…NO what on second??? wow…now we all know they will still set the center up here, but will hide it better….or will they????
Really and we think that many in our city are not already part of some type of a study or another?

posted by: Billy R on February 22, 2013  7:18pm

They’ll do it somewhere else…no sweat! Later New Haven!

posted by: anonymous on February 22, 2013  8:34pm

Why doesn’t Yale help create a community IRB? That would help circumvent issues like this. It’s not a new idea.  With $450,000,000+ in research Yale could easily spare the necessary hundred thousand to do this.

posted by: robn on February 23, 2013  10:50am

There’s a much cheaper way to familiarize oneself with the manner in which Columbians lie. Just have a roomful of spooks watch the Columbian Congress on C-Span for a couple of days and take really good notes.

posted by: Charl on February 23, 2013  6:49pm

So, Yale and the U.S. S.O.C. both lie, and are caught in written contradictions.

And it is written off as “weird” and strange.

Nothing strange about it at all.  After all the public outcry and the issue went viral, Yale and USSOC both backtracked and the sin lies in the cover-up.

This is why there are attempts every year by the federal government to put restrictions on the movement of information on the internet-  when people are armed with truth and information, they are a dangerous (in the view of those who want citizens unawares.)

posted by: streever on February 24, 2013  12:57am

Does anyone know that “torture” (simulated or otherwise?) was on the menu for this facility?

It seems to me that no one gets too upset by human guinea pig trials—involving methadone, cigarettes, alochol, addiction, depression, and other depressing topics—which absolutely do involve immigrants, the impoverished, and individuals with mental illnesses.

This happens every day, and provides meaningful income to some folks who aren’t earning enough money.

If the incoming President of Yale was being honest (if) the research involved only “non-coercive and positive” interviewing technique.

While many news outlets used the term “interrogation” I have yet to see that in any of the statements released by Yale.

I’m not saying Yale isn’t capable of lying, but I am wondering if we aren’t all jumping the gun a little bit on assertions that immigrants will be tortured, beaten, and assaulted at Yale if they build a “neuroscience” study lab that conducts “positive non-coercive interviews” to help improve the way that US Soldiers interact and engage with people in foreign nations.

Maybe before we started throwing the term “torture” around like it was meaningless we should have requested the formal proposal on the center and what types of methods were being evaluated?