Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two Psychologists at ACLU Blog of Rights

Psychologist-activists Stephen Soldz and Trudy Bond have published two excellent articles at the ACLU Blog of Rights, giving important contributions about the role of psychologists and the American Psychological Association in the U.S. torture program. The postings are related to the Accountability for Torture campaign initiated by the ACLU. While I'm posting some excerpts here for my readers, I strongly recommend clicking through the links below to read these articles in their entirety.

Can the American Psychological Association Break With Torture Collusion?, by Stephen Soldz
One might expect that claims that psychologists were central actors in the administration’s well known program of torture and detainee abuse would have mobilized APA leaders to assess the veracity of the claims, to take measures to stop this involvement in torture, and to punish perpetrators from among the profession. Unfortunately, the APA leadership took a different path. They decided to use the opportunity to curry favor with the military/intelligence establishment and the Bush administration. Thus, they moved to encourage, indeed to assert, the necessity of having psychologists aiding these investigations.

In a recent book chapter, "Closing Eyes to Atrocities" (in Ryan Goodman & Mindy Jane Roseman’s book Interrogations, Forced Feedings, and the Role of Health Professionals: New Perspectives on International Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, and Ethics) I outlined several modes of response to the issue of psychologist involvement in abusive interrogations by APA leadership. In brief, these modes of response, described in the approximate chronological order in which they were rolled out, were:

Identification with the Aggressor in which APA leaders moved quickly after 9/11 to seek funding (for the psychology profession, not the organization) from and influence with the administration and the military/intelligence establishment. They staged joint conferences with the CIA and other security agencies on interrogations and related topics and by extensive lobbying of intelligence officials.

Rigging the Process in which an ethics task force (Psychological Ethics and National Security or PENS) was created which was secretly dominated by a majority of psychologists from the military/intelligence community, four (out of 10) of whom had served in chains of command accused of abuses, to endorse an apparently already adopted "policy of engagement" in military and CIA interrogations.


We are No Different Than Others....

Parsing Pain....

Repressive Tolerance and Endless "Dialog"....

Since I composed this list, recent revelations — including release of the Office of Legal Counsel memos, the declassification of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on interrogations, and statements to NPR by a member of the PENS "ethics" task force defending SERE-based interrogations — have led the APA to adopt a new response, the "We are Shocked!" response in which they act as if they just discovered that, perhaps, a few psychologists did indeed aid the torture regime and they suddenly realize that some members might (unjustly) blame them for years of collusion and inaction.
Controlled Insanity, by Trudy Bond
I initially filed an ethics complaint against Leso, complete with documentation, with the APA on April 15, 2007. It wasn’t until February of 2008 that my complaint was finally, officially acknowledged. The U.S. government admitted al-Qahtani was tortured when Susan J. Crawford, convening authority of military commissions at Guantánamo, stated unequivocally,"We tortured [Mohammed] Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case for prosecution." Leso was instrumental in devising the interrogation plan of Mohammed al-Qahtani, collaborating, colluding and watching as Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured. APA has been silent since that time, though the complaint against Leso still remains open.

As recently as last week, the APA Board of Directors stated in an open letter, "APA will continue to monitor material in official reports related to psychologist mistreatment of national security detainees, will investigate reports of unethical conduct by APA members, and will adjudicate cases in keeping with our Code of Ethics." More doublethink. The last four presidents of APA, as well as the APA Ethics Director Stephen Behnke, have repeatedly made the same politically correct statement for four years, with absolutely no actions to support their statements. It’s become clear that the APA peddles intellectual contradiction as policy when it comes to torture, with no intent of enforcement.

Indeed, at every turn, the leadership of APA has been defending the role of psychologists in the illegal detention centers. Dr. Boulanger’s recent post describes the response of the APA to torturous interrogations:
Steven Behnke, the Director of Ethics for the American Psychological Association, emphasized the "unique competencies" that psychologists bring to their role in interrogations, and claimed that psychologists who help military interrogators made a valuable contribution. Furthermore, he argued, psychologists play a vital role in safeguarding the welfare of detainees.
When met with the increased public reporting of the collusion of psychologists in the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo and other detention sites, juxtaposed against the ethic "do no harm," APA’s mantra became one of justifying the psychologists’ presence with the above senseless words in an attempt to reduce the dissonance, or more simply, to ratchet up the doublethink. If safeguarding the welfare of the detainees was truly the role of psychologists, many of those psychologists have gravely — and prosecutably — failed. There is story upon story of detainees released after many years of illegal imprisonment with no charges ever being brought against them, prisoners who were abused and tortured. Where were the psychologists who were conscientiously protecting the detainees, keeping the interrogations safe as Dr. Behnke suggests? The answer is: they weren’t.

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