Monday, April 16, 2007

Stephen Soldz on "Psychology and Coercive Interrogations in Historical Perspective"

Stephen Soldz, a psychologist-researcher-activist, who has been at the forefront for the fight to change the policy toward psychologist participation in coercive interrogations, has an important new article out: Aid and Comfort for Torturers: Psychology and Coercive Interrogations in Historical Perspective (which you can also find, with comments thread, over at Daily Kos).

Based on a talk he gave on March 17, 2007 at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California (PINC) conference, "UNFREE ASSOCIATION: The Politics and Psychology of Torture in a Time of Terror", the article summarizes the history of psychological torture conducted by the United States, and the struggle in the American Psychological Association to change a policy of collaboration with the CIA and Pentagon in national security interrogations. -- It's worth clicking on the link and reading his entire article. Below is a snippet:

On January 24, 2003, National Guardsman Sean Baker, stationed as a military policeman at Guantánamo detention center, volunteered to be a mock prisoner, donning an orange suit and refusing to leave his cell as part of a training exercise. As planned, an Immediate Reaction Force team of MPs attempted to extract him from the cell. When he uttered the code word, "red," indicating that this was a drill and that he'd had enough, one of the MPs "forced my head down against the steel floor and was sort of just grinding it into the floor. The individual then, when I picked up my head and said, ‘Red,’ slammed my head down against the floor," says Baker. "I was so afraid, I groaned out, ‘I’m a U.S. soldier.' And when I said that, he slammed my head again, one more time against the floor. And I groaned out one more time, I said, ‘I’m a U.S. soldier.’ And I heard them say, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,' ". Even though, unlike if Baker had been a real prisoner, the "extraction" was called off part-way through, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and was left with permanent injuries, including frequent epileptic-style seizures.

When asked what would have happened if he had been a real detainee, Baker told CBS's 60 Minutes: "I think they would have busted him up. I've seen detainees come outta there with blood on 'em. ...If there wasn't someone to say, 'I'm a U.S. soldier,' if you were speaking Arabic or Pashto or Urdu or some other language in the camp, we may never know what would have happened to that individual."

This detention facility is one of the environments in which psychologists serve as consultants to interrogations. The American Psychological Association sees no ethical problems with psychologists serving there.

We psychoanalysts know that understanding requires a historical perspective. The abuses being perpetrated on America's detainees in the War of Terror, and psychologists' roles in those abuses have a long history.

About 60 years ago, as the Cold War shifted into high gear, people in the American government, most notably the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), became concerned that the Communist enemies had developed specialized techniques for mind control. They observed senior Soviet officials and others confessing to crimes they likely had not committed. They were shocked by the number of American Korean War soldiers who collaborated with their captors and denounced the United States. At first defensively, and then as an offensive tool, the CIA undertook what became a 25-year program of research into mind control techniques under a variety of names, including, most notoriously MKULTRA.

It's an important article and a fascinating read by an involved and knowledgeable author. Don't miss reading the entire thing.

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