NEW HAVEN -- A proposed collaboration between Yale University and the Department of Defense to teach interviewing methods to Green Berets with local immigrants as volunteers is meeting with fierce criticism, but the university said no such plans have been finalized.
Dr. Charles A. Morgan, the Yale School of Medicine psychiatrist at the heart of the controversy, called rumors about teaching new interrogation techniques "hype and fantasy," but admitted he is interested in leading a Center of Excellence for Operational Neuroscience at Yale, funded by the military.
"I suggested to the Army that perhaps some training in people skills -- how to talk to and listen to people might be helpful and create better relations," Morgan said in an email to the Register. "I thought that if we tried teaching better communication skills like the ones we teach to medical students and psychiatrists it might do something positive."
Published reports in the last week implied that groups of soldiers might begin receiving training in New Haven as early as April.
Yale released a statement saying that is not the case.
"No formal proposal has been submitted yet to the University, and such a center would only be established and funded after rigorous academic and ethical review, and only if its goals are consistent with the University's educational and research missions, and its research is determined to be conducted to the appropriate stringent standards," the statement said.
Yet outcry already has begun.
A student petition against a joint Yale-Department of Defense training center already has 500 signatures and a student speak-out is planned for 4 p.m. Friday on campus.
"Those of us working on this are not calling this an interrogation center," said Chris Hebdon, a doctoral student in anthropology at Yale.
Hebdon said he and other students want to start an open discussion about the role of the military at Yale. He also questioned the idea of recruiting participants from local immigrant communities to help in research.
"This definitely is not what most, or any, anthropologists would call appropriate cross-cultural research," Hebdon said.
Michael Siegel, a 1990 Yale School of Medicine graduate who now is a professor of community health sciences at Boston University's school of public health, has written to medical school Dean Robert J. Alpern to express his concerns. He also said he would no longer donate to the Yale if the center were established.
"This center is not for the purpose of treating patients for disease. This is a military training program," Siegel said. "This has no place at the School of Medicine. It's a perversion of what medical research is supposed to be used for."
Ken McGraw, deputy public affairs officer for the U.S. Special Operations Command, said Thursday the military is providing Yale a $1.8 million grant to "monitor developments in neuroscience," give periodic updates on those developments and create a course "that will improve U.S. Special Operations Forces abilities to communicate with members of other cultures by taking into account cultural sensitivities."
McGraw stressed that the course "has absolutely nothing to do with interrogations or how to conduct interrogations."
Morgan, an associate professor of psychiatry, has devised a technique for interviewing people that he would teach to small groups of Green Berets on campus. A report in the Yale Herald said other instructors would be brought in, as well, including much-publicized pickpocket Apollo Robbins.
The Yale Herald story also said Morgan planned to stress a cross-cultural component in teaching soldiers how to interview people, using about 50 interview subjects drawn from local immigrant communities.
Morgan has conducted research focusing on immigrant subjects in the past.
In 2010, he and other Yale researchers co-wrote a study of whether there were fluctuations in the heart rate of "40 male, native Arabic-speaking participants" when they told a lie. The study, published in the journal Psychophysiology, was funded by the Department of Defense.
For Siegel, such research is "very troubling."
"It exploits Muslim immigrants by using them as guinea pigs," Siegel said. "In my opinion, there's no way this research can be done ethically, because this is the job of the military."
Yale, in its official statement, said any volunteer subjects "would be selected from diverse ethnic groups who would be protected by oversight from Yale's Human Research Protection Program. Research would be conducted in a manner consistent with all other research at Yale and with the expectation that findings would be reported in peer-reviewed scientific journals."