Thursday, May 21, 2009

Exposing Health Professionals’ Complicity in Torture

The Center for Constitutional Rights sent out a press release today. They are launching a new campaign, with accompanying website, to address the latest revelations regarding the collaboration of various health professionals, including psychologists, in the torture practiced by the CIA and the U.S. defense establishment. What follows is the text of their press release (followed by an important link to another relevant article).
Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) launched the website as part of a larger campaign to hold health professionals accountable for torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

“Federal officials, licensing boards and professional associations refuse to hold individual health professionals accountable for their complicity in the torture program,” said CCR Fellow Deborah Popowski. “Their excuse – ‘we do not have enough information’ – doesn’t hold water. This campaign is about exposing the plenitude of evidence that is already out there.”

The campaign strives to expose existing evidence to launch ethical, and in some cases criminal investigations of the psychologists and physicians involved in the mistreatment of men, women and children held captive at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and CIA black sites by U.S. military and intelligence forces since the so-called “war on terror” began on September 11, 2001.

“The harm continues under President Obama,” said. “Medical personnel still participate in the brutal force-feeding of prisoners, and mental health providers are complicit in preserving the regime of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation that is steadily breaking down their physical and mental health.”

In addition to specific tools to take action on the issue, the website houses a growing roster of individuals complicit in torture in the hopes of exposing the true extent of health professionals’ complicity in torture. The first individual on the roster is Dr. John Leso, an Army psychologist who participated in the torture of Mohammed al Qahtani at Guantanamo. Dr. Leso also helped develop abusive interrogation techniques and detention conditions at the prison. A clinical psychologist trained at SUNY-Albany and Bellevue Hospital, he remains licensed to practice psychology in New York despite widely-known evidence of his participation in torture. The New York Office of the Professions, the body charged with investigating and prosecuting professional misconduct by NY-licensed psychologists, has refused to even open an investigation.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is a non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change and uses litigation to empower poor communities and communities of color, to guarantee the rights of those with the fewest protections and least access to legal resources, to train the next generation of constitutional and human rights attorneys, and to strengthen the broader movement for constitutional and human rights. Visit
Of course, whenever I think about health professionals and complicity with torture, I think about the American Psychological Association. Psychologist Trudy Bond has delivered a wonderful critique of current APA President James Bray's latest missive to the membership. I'll let Trudy's own words describe the situation:
Dr. James Bray, current president of the American Psychological Association (yes, those guys again), recently responded to a group of psychologists with the admonition, “I have a request for each of you. As you know, our association has a long history of adamantly opposing torture and the abusive interrogation of detainees. I hope you will accurately reflect this in your communications.” (Sarcasm in italics added.)

If only . . . IF ONLY APA would abide by its own counsel. In his most recent press release, Dr. Bray asserted, "APA has declared that psychologists have an obligation to intervene to stop torture or abuse, and a further obligation to report any instance of torture or abuse." Really Dr. Bray?? Then perhaps you could explain to us why, out of the many military psychologists that have been deployed to Guantanamo, we've only heard a brief complaint from psychologist Mike Gelles. APA has repeatedly used him as an example of psychologists "doing the right thing." What about the many other psychologists at Guantanamo the last seven years . . . why haven't we heard from them when detainees were brutalized outside of the interrogation room, with the military forcing their heads into toilets, breaking bones, gouging their eyes, squeezing their testicles, urinating on a prisoner's head, banging their heads on concrete floors, hog-tying them, sometimes leaving prisoners tied in excruciating positions for hours on end, days and days and weeks and weeks in isolation or subject to sleep deprivation.

We know some of their names, these military psychologists at Guantanamo, but none of them have come forward to "intervene to stop the torture and abuse" that continues at Guantanamo, as Dr. Bray demands in his best, politically-correct, hollow announcement.

Dr. Bray continues: "Furthermore, APA stands ready to adjudicate reports that any APA member has engaged in prohibited techniques." And this becomes my personal Groundhog Day.

You see, Dr. Bray, I've been here before. Ironically, one year ago this month, I appealed to your organization for truth and action, after the three previous presidents of APA made the same meaningless statements:
Gerald Koocher, APA President 2006: "I should also note that A.P.A. has taken a very strong stance against the use of torture, inhumane, and degrading treatment, and if anyone is able to identify A.P.A. members who have been involved in such activities, we will take disciplinary action."

Sharon Brehm, APA President 2007: "Any allegations that a member has violated APA’s strict prohibition against engaging in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment will be investigated and, if the evidence warrants, adjudicated."

Alan E. Kazdin, APA President 2008: "Any APA member found to have violated this prohibition would be subject to sanction under our Code of Ethics."
And now you, Dr. Bray, offering the same empty promise. There is no truth in your statement, or the statements of the preceding three presidents of APA. Your organization has refused for two years to rule on a complaint I have filed against a member of APA who has clearly violated your Code of Ethics.

Follow your own sanctimonious advice to others and "accurately reflect" the intentions of the American Psychological Association. Stop intoning the glittering generalities of your predecessors. You insult those who of us who still believe in our ethics and you demean the victims of those psychologists who have perpetrated criminal acts.

Dr. Trudy Bond is a licensed psychologist in Ohio. She can be reached at

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