Psychologists’ Torture Policy

Read about psychologists’ efforts to change the American Psychological Association’s policy on torture. Amy Goodman writes in A Torture Debate Among Healers:

While the other healing professions, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, bar their members from participating in interrogations, the APA leadership has fought against such a restriction.Frustrated with the APA, a New York psychoanalyst, Dr. Steven Reisner, has thrown his hat into the ring [for APA president]. Last year, Reisner and other dissident psychologists formed the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology in an attempt to force a moratorium against participation by APA members in harsh interrogations…

He is running on a platform opposing the use of psychologists to oversee abusive and coercive interrogations of prisoners at Guantanamo, secret CIA black sites or anywhere else international law or the Geneva Conventions are said not to apply.

The issue came to a head at the 2007 APA annual convention. After days of late-night negotiations, the moratorium came up for a climactic vote. We saw a surreal scene on the convention floor: Uniformed military were out in force. Men and women in desert camo and Navy whites worked the APA Council of Representatives, and officers in crisp dress uniforms stepped to the microphones.

Military psychologists insisted that they help make interrogations safe, ethical and legal, and cited instances where psychologists allegedly intervened to stop abuse. “If we remove psychologists from these facilities, people are going to die!” boomed Col. Larry James of the U.S. Army, chief psychologist at Guantanamo Bay and a member of the APA governing body. Dr. Laurie Wagner, a Dallas psychologist, shot back, “If psychologists have to be there in order to keep detainees from being killed, then those conditions are so horrendous that the only moral and ethical thing to do is to protest by leaving.”

The moratorium failed, and instead a watered-down resolution passed, outlining 19 harsh interrogation techniques that were banned, but only if “used in a manner that represents significant pain or suffering or in a manner that a reasonable person would judge to cause lasting harm.” In other words, this loophole allowed, you can rough people up, just don’t do permanent harm.

Immediately after the vote, Reisner spoke out at a packed town hall meeting: “If we cannot say, ‘No, we will not participate in enhanced interrogations at CIA black sites,’ I think we have to seriously question what we are as an organization and, for me, what my allegiance is to this organization, or whether we might have to criticize it from outside the organization at this point.”

Here’s some background on the APA’s torture policy:

The Enablers (Mother Jones), 03/01/08:

Last May, a Pentagon report showed that military psychologists oversaw the adaptation of the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape program for use in “terror” interrogations… SERE training is intended “to replicate harsh conditions that the Service member might encounter if they are held by forces that do not abide by the Geneva Conventions,” according to the 2007 report. By using SERE techniques against prisoners, the United States has become the country that is violating the Geneva Conventions.

After 9/11, psychologists helped reverse-engineer the SERE program from defensive to offensive use. Members of the Army’s Behavioral Science Consultation Team (BSCT), which included psychologists, oversaw the use of these torture techniques against prisoners at Guantanamo. Last November, a Guantanamo Bay standard operating procedures manual from 2003 was leaked that revealed how new prisoners were to be kept in isolation—and hidden from Red Cross investigators, in violation of the Geneva Conventions—for their first month in order to “enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee in the interrogation process.” This process of sensory deprivation and isolation is a cornerstone of the psychological torture techniques used by the U.S. military and CIA. And psychologists played a role in developing it.

Psychological Warfare (Salon), 07/26/06:

The 150,000-member American Psychological Association is facing an internal revolt over its year-old policy that condones the participation of psychologists in the interrogations of prisoners during the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

Last summer, the APA adopted new ethical principles drafted by a task force of 10 psychologists, who were selected by the organization’s leadership. That controversial task-force report, which is now official APA policy, stated that psychologists participating in terror-related interrogations are fulfilling “a valuable and ethical role to assist in protecting our nation, other nations, and innocent civilians from harm.”

But Salon has learned that six of the 10 psychologists on the task force have close ties to the military. The names and backgrounds of the task force participants were not made public by the APA; Salon obtained them from congressional sources. Four of the psychologists who crafted the permissive policy were involved with the handling of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, or served with the military in Afghanistan — all environments where serious cases of abuse have been documented…

In May, the American Psychiatric Association reacted to the detainee-abuse scandal by barring psychiatrists’ participation in interrogations. A month later, in June, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder Jr. unveiled a new policy clarifying the role of medical professionals in interrogations. It laid out a preference for psychologists (rather than psychiatrists) to advise on interrogations. That 10-page document also set other guidelines for military medical professionals who deal with detainees, such as establishing a barrier between acting as caregivers and those who advise interrogators….

Listen to (or read) a Democracy Now! debate with Dr. Steven Reisner and the APA president, Dr. Gerald Koocher (06/16/06):

Should doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists participate in military interrogations? Both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association have adopted policies discouraging their members from being involved. But their counterpart, the American Psychological Association has not.

Read an open letter to the APA President, Sharon Brehm.

And for more analysis:

The Ethics of Interrogation and the APA: A Critique of Policy and Process

Psychologists and the Realpolitik of Torture


April 15, 2008 - Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] Psychologists’ Torture Policy […]

    Pingback by Psychologists, Redacted Documents and Torture « warprompts | May 6, 2008

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