Friday, May 2, 2008

Psychologist "Swat Team" Serves Bush's Torture Gulag

Dr. Alan E. Kazdin, current president of the American Psychological Association, in a new column in the APA Monitor, brags that APA lobbyists are a vertable "swat team" in support of government dollars for scientific research. Much of that money funds the work of psychologists "in support of homeland security after 9/11", "psychological research within the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense", and the "special relevance of psychological science on... counter-terrorism" research, among other items.

It is surely cosmic irony that places Dr. Kazdin's article in contrast to new revelations from the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. government documenting "the role of psychologists in military interrogations."
"The documents reveal that psychologists and medical personnel played a key role in sustaining prisoner abuse — a clear violation of their ethical and legal obligations," said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "The documents only underscore the need for an independent investigation into responsibility for the systemic abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody abroad."

In 2006, the ACLU received a highly redacted version of the Church Report, which was commissioned by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a comprehensive review of military interrogation operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay based on 187 investigations into detainee abuse that had been closed as of September 30, 2004. The report did not analyze information relating to 130 abuse cases that remained open as of that date, and issues of senior official responsibility for detainee abuse were beyond its mandate. Written by Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, the report skirts the question of command responsibility for detainee abuse, euphemistically labeling official failure to issue interrogation guidelines for Iraq and Afghanistan as a "missed opportunity."

The report states that "analogous to the BSCT in Guantanamo Bay, the Army has a number of psychologists in operational positions (in both Afghanistan and Iraq), mostly within Special Operations, where they provide direct support to military operations. They do not function as mental health providers, and one of their core missions is to support interrogations."
The documents also demonstrate the failure of medical personnel to report abuses upon those ostensibly under their care. Moreover, when it comes to the use of torture techniques, such as forced nakedness, stress positions, the use of dogs, and other illegal forms of "interrogation" or incarceration, there was a decided policy of ignoring even the flimsy legal justifications and prohibitions issuing from the Department of Defense:
"The unredacted sections of the report provide new evidence confirming the use of abusive interrogation techniques after they were no longer authorized. According to the report, "the use of some of the techniques... continued even until July 2004, despite the fact that many were retracted by the October 2003 memorandum, and some were subsequently prohibited by the May 2004 memorandum."
As psychologists are implicated in the worst sort of human rights abuses at Guantanamo and elsewhere, Dr. Kazin, who is the John M. Musser Professor of Psychology, Child Psychiatry, and Institute of Social and Policy Studies at Yale University, positively gushes over the "APA... dream team of experts that is nimble and can move into action as needed with Congress, funding agencies and other organizations."

Kazin's organization, the APA, took five years to make a detailed statement against torture techniques that were documented at U.S. prisons, including Guantanamo, although even then the APA mimicked Bush administration language in saying that only psychologists who "knowingly" inflicted harm are to be sanctioned. This makes judging the intent of a torturer supposedly a crucial question. This doctrine of "specific intent" was written into the infamous Bybee memo, and represents a get out of jail free card for those who torture. (See John Mikhail's excellent discussion of the implications of that little word, "knowingly," over at the Georgetown Law Faculty Blog.)

APA Springs into Action for... Defense Funding

Despite all protestations of good faith by APA, psychologists still staff the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams at Guantanamo, and other interrogation sites, including, presumably, secret "black site" prisons run by the CIA. Psychologists at these sites are under the military chain of command, not APA ethics codes and committees. These sites are known to be in violation of Geneva Conventions and other national and international laws and agreements concerning prisoners, including the holding of detainees in indefinite detention, hiding detainees from the Red Cross, subjecting detainees to abusive conditions of detention, transferring via secret rendition some detainees to foreign prisons to be tortured, and subjecting prisoners to secret courts where hearsay evidence and evidence supplied via tortured confession is allowed.

In his article, Dr. Kazin brags how when the National Science Foundation threatened to defund some pet projects, "within approximately 12 hours, an APA swat team mobilized an effort that drew on targeted individuals, other organizations, congressional staff, grass-roots support from many psychologists, and more." Two hundred phone calls and many emails later, the bills were saved. And yet, to this day, the APA cannot find the time to pass a resolution or make a statement calling for the closure of Guantanamo prison, where basic human rights are not allowed, and a policy of isolation, sleep deprivation, fear, and a policy of indefinite detention remains in force. Show me where you put an organization's time and money, and I'll show you what that organization is really about. The APA is an obscentiy.

The newly unredacted Church report includes this statement about the role of psychologists, highlighting the use of psychologists throughout the different theaters in Bush's misnamed "war on terror":
Analogous to the BSCT in Guantanamo Bay, the Army has a number of psychologists in operational positions (in both Afghanistan and Iraq), mostly within Special Operations, where they provide direct support to military operations. They do not function as mental health providers, and one of their core missions is to support interrogations.
Supposedly, those working clinically with the disease and mental illness fostered by abusive treatment and conditions at U.S. prison sites do not share medical records with interrogators, but the report, while claiming that use of such information to "plan interrogations" doesn't take place, admits that such "sharing" has taken place:
According to the Director, Psychological Applications Directorate (US Army Special Operations Command), the only reason for sharing any medical information would be to ensure that detainees are treated in accordance with their medical requirements.
If you believe that, I've got a proverbial bridge to sell you. Meanwhile, the unredacted portions of the Church Report corroborate the findings of the Pentagon's own Office of the Inspector General report that exposed the existence of abusive techniques at Guantanamo, just at the time that APA honchos like Colonel Larry James (then Chief Psychologist for the Joint Intelligence Group at GTMO, Cuba) were in charge.

Alan Kazdin's article represents the mindset of the APA bureaucracy, which is dying to feed at the trough of "homeland security" and "counter-terrorism" millions drained from the public coffers to build up the power of the overtly militarist state that America has become.

Recently, APA dissident candidate for president, Dr. Steven Reisner, is campaigning on an overt call for an end to psychologist participation in military interrogations, such as at Guantanamo. While garnering a minority of votes, he still won a plurality in the first round of voting, demonstrating that rank-and-file psychologists are growing increasingly disgusted with the policy of their organization. A related group of APA dissidents are circulating a petition that psychologists "not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights."

When I left the APA earlier this year, I specifically cited the overall stance of that organization in relation to the national security state. While the complicity with torture and human rights abuses is bad enough, the promise of further integration into "counter-terrorism" and "homeland security" programs of the government is an ominous foreshadowing of what the APA intends to become. If those looking to change APA are unsuccessful, they must ponder what they are doing in an organization so steadfastly dedicated to serving those that torture, that are obsessed with national security at a time when the government of this country engages in illegal, genocidal wars abroad, and seems incapable of reforming its own increasingly militarist and anti-democratic policies and actions.


Anonymous said...

Is there an international equivalent to the APA? If so, what is its stance relative to torture and the roles of psychologists? In the US, is there an alternative national organization for psychologists which rejects torture outright?

As important as your post is, I can hardly stand to read it, let alone fully digest the full implications of what it means. Instead, I riffed off a post by Professor Lubars at Balkinization about induced mental illness in Guantanamo detainees and discussed the US policy of incarcerating instead of hospitalizing patients with mental illness. I'm not sure I'm up to anything more at this point.

Valtin said...

Re international organizations: I've looked, and there are many international organizations of psychology, usually oriented towards some aspect of the field (clinical, applied, psychoanalysis, etc.). None of them carry an overarching authority, and none that I know of have taken APA to task for their position on interrogations. The history of psychology shows that the development of the field is intricately entwined with national development (see the book I cite on my reading list on my blog, "The Professionalization of Psychology in Nazi Germany"), so that no international body has developed that carries any weight. (In this case, organized psychology differs from, say, psychoanalysis in its pre-WWII years.)

In the U.S., the primary alternative to APA in a psychologist organization that seems to reject torture outright is Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

APA has a division of International Psychology, and looking at one of their journals may be of interest to you (in an abstract way; I find the articles boring snoozers for aspiring UN-type bureaucrats -- check out

By the way, annie, I read your post on "Incarcerating People with Mental Illness", and it was very good, very pointed. The withdrawal of mental health resources to the severely and acutely mentally ill is a horrific societal crime. Your exchange with Luban was very good.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining the meta organization and for providing me with some further resources.I'll do some more reading and thinking.

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