Monday, July 30, 2007

Double Feature: VF's Katherine Eban and APA critic Brad Olson on Democracy Now!

Amy Goodman over at Democracy Now! has a great show just posted. You can watch it streaming or listen to it on mp3.

Katherine Eban, who wrote "Rorschach and Awe" in Vanity Fair, talks about her research on psychologists torturing for the Defense Department. I reviewed her article a few weeks ago.

Brad Olson is an assistant professor at Northwestern University and a founding member of the Coalition for an Ethical APA. He also chairs the Divisions for Social Justice, a coalition of 13 American Psychological Association (APA) divisions within the larger APA structure. Along with Steven Reisner and Stephen Soldz, he was an author of an Open Letter to APA President Sharon Brehm calling for "APA [to] take immediate steps to remedy the damage done to the reputation of the organization, to our ethical standards, to the field of psychology, and to human rights". Such steps would include:

...APA leadership should support and the Council of Representatives must, at the August Convention, pass the Moratorium on Psychologist Involvement in Interrogations at US Detention Centers for Foreign Detainees proposed by Dr. Neil Altman and scheduled for a vote at Council....

The APA Board of Directors encourage, support, and cooperate with the Senate investigations of detainee treatment....

The APA Board of Directors commence a neutral third-party investigation of its own involvement, and that of APA staff, in APA-military conflicts of interest. [emphasis in original]

The Democracy Now! show is certainly very much worth watching. I think it's worth a donation to DN too, don't you?

Here's a snippet from today's interview:

AMY GOODMAN: Katherine Eban, you write about how the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, both of these associations have passed resolutions banning involvement in military interrogations. They will punish members who are involved. What has happened here with the APA, the larger association, American Psychological Association, of, what, some 150,000 members?

KATHERINE EBAN: Well, that is an open question. I mean, why does the American Psychological Association stand alone in allowing its members to participate in interrogations? Some would say because psychologists don't take a Hippocratic Oath. Some would say because they have had a long experience in assisting law enforcement with interrogations. However, I always found that comparison specious, because a military interrogation or a CIA interrogation is occurring in an environment where there is no habeas corpus, where it’s already been deemed that these detainees are not covered by the Geneva Conventions. So critics would argue that it’s a fundamentally coercive environment. So there's no level playing field. There’s no way in which detainees can invoke their rights, because it’s been deemed they have none.

Has Ms. Eban been channelling my last post, "Will APA Psychology Convention Endorse Indefinite Detention?" Who knows? I'm sure I'm not the only person on the planet who sees the cruel irony of being an ostensible health care organization, and a UN-recognized NGO (non-governmental agency)(and the APA is SO proud of this), and then say it's okay to send one's members to work with interrogators in a prison that allows no hope of release, no hope of ever having your case heard. And this whether one formally "tortures" or not.

I'll close with this provocative and interesting exchange between Amy Goodman and Brad Olson:

AMY GOODMAN: Who is fighting this, having a moratorium to investigate further?

BRAD OLSON: Who is fighting it? Well, it’s difficult to tell. I mean, what we do know is that -- I mean, clearly the staff of the American Psychological Association, some staff members who are very high up are the ones that are really -- seem to be fighting tooth and nail.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is the APA so closely tied to the military and military intelligence? What is the history of this relationship?

BRAD OLSON: Well, I mean, the history certainly goes way, way back. I mean, certainly in -- you know, some people might question the morality of any wars, but certainly some people would argue that World War II, that psychologists really were -- really created some effective means and techniques to do some positive things, although that -- there's also a great history of that being very sordid and sinister and harmful, which is exactly why we need to stick to our ethics code. But, I mean, now it’s a question, why -- where are the ties? I mean, some people argue that this has a lot to do with our competition with psychiatry, psychologists' competition with psychiatrists.

I think the ties are about more than competition with rivals in the field. But I will forego a complete statement of my beliefs here, directing interested readers to two prior essays: Frankenstein's Children: Modern Torture's Scientific Bible and Military Psychologists Oppose Torture Moratorium.

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