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.

What’s the problem here? We see several.

First, intelligence does not exist in a vacuum. It is gathered to support a particular foreign policy agenda, the morality of which is not beyond question.

It seems evident that Yale would not train foreign military operatives to interrogate informants. Yale as an institution does not — cannot — align itself blindly with the goals of other militaries.

But who is to say we should align ourselves with U.S. foreign policy? Though its goals are at times morally defensible, they can also be appalling. The techniques soldiers learn at Yale might be used, for example, to identify candidates for President Obama’s “kill list,” which is itself unethical and likely illegal. If someone lies to protect their friend from ending up on that kill list, is that a lie it is moral to detect? By training soldiers to perform these interrogations, Yale would be complicit in achieving these goals.

As a university, Yale purpose’s is to forge a global community of scholars working together to produce, share, debate, question, challenge and reformulate knowledge. Its purpose is not to promote the agenda of the U.S. political elite.

It might be countered that Yale already collaborates with the military through ROTC. But this center is different. ROTC encourages students to use their broad academic experience and critical thinking skills in a military setting, engaging the military in conversation with the liberal arts.

But this new center could not, by its very nature, create such a dialogue. It simply allocates Yale’s resources to do something the military can do on its own: teach soldiers to interrogate.

Second, there is the issue of transparency. As students, we have seen this administration’s complete lack of accountability to its constituents. Ignoring widespread student and faculty dissent, the Yale Corporation unflinchingly proceeded with plans to establish Yale-NUS. Ignoring faculty concerns about classroom space and increasing class sizes, it has moved forward to build new residential colleges. In two short months, without any student or worker representation and limited input from faculty, it selected a new president.

Now we learn of Yale’s plans to train soldiers in “people skills” on our campus only two months before the center is scheduled to open. 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.

Finally, Morgan’s research and, by extension, this proposed center target people of color — brown people exclusively. 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.

As Nathalie was working on this piece, her phone rang. At the other end of the line was her 7-year-old nephew Rocco, who wanted to wish her a happy Valentine’s Day and send her many loud kisses. He now lives in Montreal, where Nathalie is from, but until about a year ago, he lived in Haiti.

The U.S.’ involvement in Haiti, from its occupation between 1915 and 1934 to its support — financial, logistical (and “moral”) — of François and later Jean-Claude Duvalier’s brutal dictatorships in the 60s and 70s, informs much of her outrage surrounding the establishment of this center, and her understanding that people often lie to protect their lives, their families, their country and the very freedom that Americans so dearly cherish.

Nathalie Batraville is a graduate student in the French department and Alex Lew is a sophomore in Berkeley College. Michelle Morgan contributed writing.

  • theantiyale

    “These techniques would be honed using New Haven’s immigrant community as subjects. ”

    Racist, elitist, patronizing.

    New Haven’s “immigrant community” should interview Yale administrators on THEIR “people skills” .

    NOTE: You might not find outright “lies”; Instead look for “intransigent equivocation” cloaked in benign neglect.

  • grad15

    Thank you, Nathalie, Alex, and Michelle for this and all your work drawing attention to Yale’s questionable, objectionable, shady and opaque decision making. Thank you also for providing resources for critical thinking and action. I’m really sick over how Yale decides whether or not it represents the interests of the students, faculty, and staff based on whatever’s most convenient and lucrative for the corporation and its corporate giant friends–apparently also the Army. I resent Yale making me complicit in this deal. Thank you for helping all of us who don’t support Yale becoming an arm of the U.S. Army make it that much harder for them to just go about their business as usual making catastrophic deals as if nobody will care or notice.

    • WasThisWrittenByGrownups?

      And thank you, Nathalie, Alex and Michelle, for illustrating the utter lack of journalistic standards at the YDN.

      This article is nothing but a few paraphrased and out-of-context excerpts from a previous Yale Herald article mixed in with groundless conjecture conveyed with roughly the same logic as a McCarthy trial.

      Perhaps Dr. Morgan is also a communist? We have no factual reason to believe this either, but certainly we should investigate the matter. Think of the children!

      I’m not surprised that a few over-privileged college kids have managed to concoct this incredible story based solely on their own biases and ignorance, but I am impressed that what should be at least a reasonably respectable publication would entertain them by posting it.

  • ForYaleForYaleAndForYale

    Thank you for writing this op-ed. I agree completely.

    This is not a question of being pro-military/anti-military. It’s a question of being pro-university, and in believing in the humanistic (universal, enlightenment) mission of the liberal arts. The military has its own schools. Some of them are very good. Let them worry about teaching soldiers “(brown) people skills.”

    I wonder: how many zeroes does the big fat check that the federal government has given to Yale contain? How many zeroes does it take for a place like Yale to sell out?

    • DocHollidaye

      a lot of zeros. I just think this is a bad idea. They have a whole different set of dynamics to deal with and bringing that into a University setting is not going to turn out well. That’s my (opinion). I’m seeing two different elements great polarities and putting them together is inviting a nuclear fission with unclear projections of the final project being a good thing or bad, but I’m leaning toward bad.

  • tisquinn

    I’m glad that the authors brought this to our attention. Without agreeing with many of their conclusions, I still appreciate that they raised such important issues. However, they often drew overreaching conclusions from paltry evidence. I take particular objection to their writing: “Finally, Morgan’s research and, by extension, this proposed center target people of color — brown people exclusively. 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?”

    The brief (not to mention unclear and out of context) citation from an interview in the Herald cannot serve as grounds for the charges they level. Is their alleged assumption operative in Morgan’s research? Probably not. But more importantly, it is FAR from evident just from the given list. (What was the nature of the list he was giving? What were his stated reasons for using those categories? What else did he say in the interview? Why does he say that it is important to use subjects different from the interrogators? Could the difference he refers to plausibly be cultural and not ethnic difference?)

    Accusations need real evidence. Out of a sense of respect and common decency for Morgan and out of respect for the importance of the issue of racial insensitivity, the authors should be far more circumspect and reasonable in their claims.

    I’m disappointed that the YDN op-ed staff allowed this sort of unsubstantiated accusation to print. The paper should have higher standards.

    • alum555

      “Could the difference he refers to plausibly be cultural and not ethnic difference?”

      … To suggest that people of Ecuadorian or Nepalese or Colombian culture “lie” in such a way that is closer to the people on whom this training will inevitably be practiced is not only offensive but erroneous. (Not to mention, absurd– unless you believe that all non-white cultures do in fact indoctrinate lying behavior in the same manner.)

      But, this point is minor to the actual problem that this article is addressing. We DON’T have enough information about this program. That’s why the article repeatedly asks for greater transparency as well as faculty/student/staff involvement. (Before condemning the quality of the article, please note that it is not an investigative piece– nor is it meant to be. It is completely legitimate for American citizens and Yale students to ask for MORE information. If these authors hadn’t brought this up in a public forum, I may not have known about it because only a handful of news venues (2 or 3) have actually covered this. That, IN AND OF ITSELF, is a problem.

      Given your penchant for evidence, I’m incredibly surprised that you’re not referring to the most abundant archive of evidence regarding U.S. defense operations: HISTORY. Critical thinking and an evidence-citing scientific mind should be able to refer back to how projects like this one have affected American populations as well as the nation’s foreign relations over and over again. This is not the first time America has used (for U.S. interests) immigrant populations who do not have the political power or economic means to refuse. This is not the first time when apparently “nice” or “soft” military projects have actually had incredibly violent intentions. This is not the first time that university institutions (beacons of learning and inclusion) have been co-opted for violent activities abroad. It goes on…please, please refer to history instead of approaching all “new” things with naivete. The most dangerous thing we could do is wait for this project to fulfill its purpose and then judge the evidence.

      • Alwayswiththecommenting

        I was thinking about this earlier today, in light of tisquinn’s post. I was thinking: what kind of evidence would you like? Abu Ghraib photos? Something less sinister, but still proof? Isn’t it the point that once you have the evidence, it’s too late?

      • WasThisWrittenByGrownups?

        “The most dangerous thing we could do is wait for this project to fulfill its purpose and then judge the evidence.”

        Absolutely. Basing our opinions on facts would lead to nothing but trouble when we’ve got all these potential communists in our midst. On with the McCarthy trial!

  • Guest

    Thank you Nathalie and Alex for your excellent column which points out the many problems and contradictions of Yale’s participation in such training techniques. As a Yale graduate (Silliman ’01), I will never financially contribute to Yale again, or otherwise support the university, if it proceeds with this training center. The described techniques will no doubt contribute to further destruction of civil liberties (and as you indicate, continue our pattern of indefinite detention and assassination of people we don’t “necessarily identify with” i.e. Muslims, non-white people, immigrants). While Yale was never perfect, it was the place where I learned to think critically, question the corrupting influences of power and business, and understand the principles of our Constitution. Sadly, it is no longer that place which respects those ideals.

    • DocHollidaye

      like I said it’s a bad idea bringing the military into Yale…nuclear fission which I believe the results are going to be bad.

  • MichaelZWilliamson

    I’m surprised Yale is considered for such things. There are far better schools of psychology and sociology.

    I also question why they question the sharing of knowledge. The current military hires numerous indigenes from various areas to teach language and culture, because it’s easier and safer to operate when one has a grasp of the local environment.

    Conversely, if Yale refuses to share information, it will bear a portion of the guilt from any avoidable cultural clashes that result from ignorance.

  • ethanjrt

    I just read the original article that this column seems to be responding to ( http://yaleherald.com/news-and-features/yale-welcomes-special-ops/ ). That article describes a training program to teach soldiers on the ground to identify potential immediate threats using “soft” questioning methods; this program attempts to prepare soldiers to question across cultural and linguistic barriers by recruiting local immigrants, who are paid $50 to $100 per hour for their participation.

    So I’m not exactly sure how this became a way of identifying drone strike targets for the President’s “kill list” or a claim that “all brown people must belong to the same ‘category’ of liar.” I appreciate the authors’ general concerns about U.S. military and covert action, but unless they have done more research into the training center or Morgan’s past work – which it doesn’t appear they have – then I see no call to exaggerate the center’s purpose or reinterpret Dr. Morgan’s work. (The “brown people” comment seems like a particularly offensive assumption given his credentials; unlike the authors, the man is a well regarded scientist.)

    This column calls for a “conversation” and “understand[ing],” then fails to attempt either and instead goes straight for the jugular, assuming its own facts. This happens from time to time in YDN op-eds, but I’m a little disturbed by the amount of uncritical support this particular column has garnered.

  • sam friedman

    Although this is not strictly speaking research, it is the kind of “human subjects” activity that really cries out for IRB discussion and review. I am amazed (though I should not be, I suppose) that Yale would allow this to take place without such review.

    I suppose as a graduate of a competitor college (Harvard 64) I should crow that “Harvard would never make such a lapse,” but indeed I unhappily suspect that it would easily fall into such misjudgment.

  • Gowrisankar Namasivayam

    As long as one gets identified by, sex, colour, nationality, state, schooling and the like human society is bound to face discriminatory treatment in which ever place, what ever activity we are engaging ourselves. This is a sin on human race. Neither any amount of education nor any great institution has ever opened up minds. We need to find ways and means to over come identity which emerges from self centered ego.

  • chestypuller

    Does no one recognize the irony of the illustration? The authors question whether students should “align [them]selves with U.S. foreign policy”, underneath an illustration of a monument dedicated to men who died supporting US foreign policy.

    If the authors want to be part of an institution that is divorced from the nation and the civil institutions which support it, then fine; they may maintain their piety. However, Yale is not such an institution.

  • Nope

    The general lack of understanding here is awesome. I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments. Harvard has conducted similar studies, so has Columbia. And Berkeley. And Stanford. Also, there is zero similarity between the actual study and what is being portrayed here. This “study” or, more accurately, this examination of human behavior was completely voluntary, and the subjects could have left at anytime. Said subjects were paid. An experience in Haiti does not equate to an informed position on this particular topic. I would go so far as to say this would skew ones position and prevent objectivity.
    It was not Dr. Morgan, but the columnists and commenters that made this about race and skin color. Dr. Morgan is operating under the notion that there are factual and proven variations in sociological schemas that would lead to differences in how people interact. Just like there are tribes in New Guinea that interact with very limited verbal communication, or multiple dialects of Chinese, there are variations in how the collective “we” perceive body language and tone. As a result, how “we” determine if someone is being honest or deceitful is directly related to exposure. Hence the study.
    To the Authors- I do understand your quandary. If you left this shallow, ill informed, moronic excuse for an argument at the Starbucks where it was conceived no one would hear you.
    It appears the unifying theme here is the total lack of understanding. It does not appear that this study is understood in its scope or intent. It does not appear there is any understanding at all of the U.S. Military or how it conducts studies. There is no attempt to understand, but rather to demonize Special Operations and what they would do with their new found, god like grasp of the human psyche (note- the Authors confusion of Special Operations for the singular entity Special Forces is indicative of their infantile grasp of the SOF concept and what they do).

    • Appalling journalism

      Bravo; well stated: Frankly, your whole position on this is elitist and patronizing, based in your own uncommon comfort you can critique from a position of intellectual isolation. The authors of this editorial need to Join the real world; come down out of their ivory tower. All these objecting yalies are forgetting they’re… Yalies

  • Lyndon

    Interesting…

    I’m here because I wanted to fact check an article diffusing similar information, from Russia Today. I was skeptical at first because the headline “Yale will train US Special Forces interrogation techniques using immigrants as guinea pigs” was a bit too scandalous, not to mention the language used in that article ( https://rt.com/usa/news/yale-us-forces-program-602/ ) was a bit too biased…but maybe it’s more truthful than I thought.. :p

  • disqus_shW2p5wwX0

    You guys are kidding right? What a crappy biased article. Typical of the Yale community, crusaders who have probably never done much to help their country or community criticizing those who do.

    • guest1420

      I love the critique of an opinion piece as “biased.”

  • Aajaxx

    If restricted to countries with a decent human rights record in interrogation (which perhaps leaves out the US!), this center could promote more humane, effective and fewer interrogations. However, it is understandably troubling when universities engage in secret business operations such as this.

  • Appalling journalism

    You idiot ideologue, you’ve been tripping over your own ignorance on this one.

  • Joe A Gonzalez

    “It might be countered that Yale already collaborates with the military through ROTC.”
    I love this sentence. Having ROTC on campus is now considered collaboration? Really? If sentiment like this was around during the WWII, I suspect there would several “journalists” locked up in a deep dark hole. I really cannot decide which is worse, that so many in academia consider patriotism like strep or that they feel so happy to speak they’re treachery. Well I’m busy got to go, working on a time machine, guess what decade I shooting for. Oops didn’t mean to infere violence with the word shoot.