Feb. 20, 2013— -- The Department of Defense is looking to team up with Yale University to establish an "interview training" center for U.S. Army Special Forces that would rely on paid members of New Haven's immigrant community for practice.
Members of the Yale student body and local civil rights leaders have spoken out against the initiative, labeling it an "interrogation training center" and warning against the potential harm it would cause the city's diverse immigrant community. A petition in protest of the potential center has already garnered nearly 500 signatures.
But, the slated leader of the project, Dr. Charles A. Morgan III, who teaches psychiatry at the Yale Medical School and once advised the U.S. military on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder policy, argues that what the center would teach is far from "interrogation." The "rumor mill," he says, has spread misinformation about his practices.
If Department of Defense 1.8-million dollar grant comes through as Morgan hopes, the center will be called the U.S. SOCOM Center of Excellence for Operational Neuroscience, and will teach special operations soldiers a conversational approach to intelligence gathering that would replace more aggressive interrogation-style techniques, according to the orignal report of the story by the Yale Herald. The training would also draw some of its "interviewees" from the city's immigrant communities, which include many, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Colombians, and Moroccans. New Haven, Connecticut, commonly referred to as a "haven city" for immigrants, has one of the largestIraqi refugee communities in the nation.
The Department of Defense routinely funds academic institutions to conduct research projects, doling out 191 million dollars in grants in 2011 alone. However, this project seems to have raised more red flags than most because it entails training military operatives, using University professors, and relying on local immigrants. A spokesperson from the Department of Defense who handles new initiatives said he could not speak about the proposed center, because he was "unfamiliar with the project."
However, Morgan maintains that the military approached him primarily to help "promote better relations between U.S. troops and the people whose villages they work in and around." He wrote in an email to ABC/Univision that he hopes to teach U.S. soldiers "better communication skills" with ethnic communities by drawing on the city's immigrants.
"How to ask non-leading questions, how to listen to what people are saying, how to understand them. 'Getting a better read on people' is a more colloquial phrasing of this idea," he wrote in an email. "Sadly this seems to have become a rumor about teaching interrogation methods."
Dixon Jimenez, an Ecuadorian immigrant rights leader in New Haven, says that he is wary of the center.
"It seems quite obvious to me, that Yale University, with principles like liberty, equality and justice, shouldn't open a center that uses the immigrant community as test subjects and guinea pigs," Jimenez, who is an independent activist, said in Spanish. "Especially if the project has such racially charged undertones."
Morgan said that his courses at the proposed center, which could open in April at the earliest, would likely be similar to the training he conducts with Yale medical students. He wrote in an email that the process has always been an enjoyable one for those immigrants involved.
"I've worked hard over the years to get people involved; they enjoy it immensely and ask if and when they can help me train people again," Morgan wrote. "So it has been a very positive endeavor."
According to the Yale Herald, one former "interviewee" of Middle Eastern descent, who enjoyed the experience, recalls being paid $50 an hour in one of Morgan's tests to try to deceive Yale students, and was paid $100 extra if he did so successfully. But some Yale students are appalled by the idea of using the city's immigrant community as test subjects, arguing that the University should stay out of the affairs of the U.S. military.
"It simply allocates Yale's resources to do something the military can do on its own: teach soldiers to interrogate," students Nathalie Batraville and Alex Lew wrote in an opinion column for the Yale Daily News on Friday.
"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."
The Yale administration confirmed in a statement that the center is a possibility and "would initially be funded by the Department of Defense," but also noted that a formal proposal has not yet been submitted and the center's methods would be "protected by oversight from Yale's Human Research Protection Program."
"In short, the center, if established, would be designed in the best traditions of Yale research and scholarship. Public reports stating otherwise are premature and based on speculation and incomplete information. Yale is absolutely committed to the careful design of research and the ethical treatment of research participants," part of the statement read.
Still, immigrant rights leader Dixon Jimenez says the New Haven community should also be involved in the decision, and that they need to hear more details of the project.
"We should broaden the conversation and demand that Morgan explain exactly what his center will do, and how immigrants will be involved, and we should discuss internally how it will affect us in the city and state."