March 19th, 2008
Psychologist Jean Maria and retired Counterintelligence operative David DeBatto have written a critique of the American Psychological Association 2007 resolution against torture and it’s February 2008 revision. Arrigo and Debatto discuss the concrete settings and circumstances that psychologists operate under when participating in interrogations. These settings and circumstances, Arrigo and DeBatto argue, preclude effective ethical oversight by the APA or any other outside organization.
An Intelligence Perspective on
the February 22, 2008, APA Modification of the August 19, 2007, APA Resolution on
Reaffirmation of the American Psychological Association Position Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Its Application to Individuals Defined in the United States Code as “Enemy Combatants”
Jean Maria Arrigo, PhD
Project on Ethics and Art in Testimony
U.S. Army Counterintelligence Operative (ret.)
March 19, 2008
The original June 2005 American Psychological Association (APA) policy on psychological ethics in national security (APA PENS Report) and the August 2007 Resolution have been strengthened by a February 22, 2008, vote of the APA Council of Representatives. The February 2008 Modification affirms international human rights law and proscribes psychologists’ participation in a list of known abusive interrogation techniques. From an intelligence perspective, however, the Modification is largely a symbolic moral gain, without direct effect on operations, as we explain below.
The February 2008 Modification states:
BE IT RESOLVED that this unequivocal condemnation [of torture] includes all techniques considered torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Geneva Conventions; the Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, Particularly Physicians, in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners: or the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo. An absolute prohibition against the following techniques therefore arises from, is understood in the context of, and is interpreted according to these texts: mock executions; water-boarding or any other form of simulated drowning or suffocation; sexual humiliation; rape; cultural or religious humiliation; exploitation of fears, phobias or psychopathology; induced hypothermia; the use of psychotropic drugs or mind-altering substances; hooding; forced nakedness; stress positions; the use of dogs to threaten or intimidate; physical assault including slapping or shaking; exposure to extreme heat or cold; threats of harm or death; isolation; sensory deprivation and over-stimulation; sleep deprivation; or the threatened use of any of the above techniques to an individual or to members of an individual’s family. Psychologists are absolutely prohibited from knowingly planning, designing, participating in or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques at any time and may not enlist others to employ these techniques in order to circumvent this resolution’s prohibition. Like the earlier APA policy statements, the February 2008 Modification presumes the validity of psychologists’ roles in interrogations in national security settings, including settings where the conditions of detention violate human rights law. Similarly, the Modification points to no implementation, monitoring, or enforcement.-Violations of APA Ethics Code in civilian settings, in contrast, may be reported by victims or witnesses; and remedies are supported by the clinics, hospitals, schools, universities, and other institutions that embed civilian psychological practices.
Many institutional factors combine to defeat APA principles on interrogation in national security settings under the Bush Administration. We note four.
1. In intelligence operations, information is passed to participants strictly on a “need to know” basis. Inasmuch as the February 2008 Modification prohibits psychologists from “knowingly planning, designing, participating in or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques,” it is a simple matter to withhold morally relevant information from psychologists and to provide cover stories. Indeed, intelligence professionals consider psychologists easy to manipulate because psychologists’ principles and habits render them predictable, because they become attached to their projects, and because they tend to be ambitious in their national security careers. In a recent Associated Press interview, Col. Larry James, twice commander of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) at Guantanamo Bay, stated: “I learned a long, long time ago, if I’m going to be successful in the intel community, I’m meticulously-in a very, very dedicated way- going to stay in my lane…. So if I don’t have a specific need to know about something, I don’t want to know about it. I don’t ask about it” (Selsky, 2008).
2. The vast majority of psychologists in contact with detainees are junior officers who owe service in exchange for educational scholarships (Bennett, 2007). For example, the U.S. Army offers full tuition and a living allowance to prospective psychologists in exchange for one year of service for each year of graduate school, with extra service required for internships (U.S. Army, 2008) A psychologist who reneges on service must repay educational expenses.
3. Regardless of rank, a psychologist is a staff officer, not a commander, and he or she must obey the field commander of whatever rank. For example, suppose Colonel Smith diagnoses Private Jones, under combat operations in Baghdad, with a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Smith writes a medical order for Jones to be sent immediately to the U.S. for treatment of his PTSD. The combat commander, Captain Adams, countermands Smith’s medical order, stating: “Private Jones is necessary for continued combat operations in and around the Baghdad area of operations,” as well as, “this brigade is chronically undermanned in Private Jones’s MOS (Military Occupational Specialty).” The combatant commander’s orders will always take precedence over a medical order, especially in a combat theater of operations such as Afghanistan or Iraq.
4. The role of interrogation consultant is only one of many roles in which psychologists can facilitate abusive interrogations. For example, a U.S. Army Sergeant with over 20 years of service witnesses what he considers to be the blatant torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees by his fellow Army intelligence personnel. The sergeant reports the abuse up the chain of command. The company commander, not wanting to disgrace his command by reports of torture, orders the sergeant to be interviewed by the unit “Combat Stress Counselor,” an army clinical psychologists. The company commander instructs the psychologist to insure that her report on the sergeant shows him to be “mentally unstable” and “delusional, and his allegations of abuse and torture “without basis in fact”-otherwise, the psychologist’s career is in jeopardy. The counselor therefore diagnoses the sergeant as delusional and has him sent involuntarily to an army mental ward in Germany for an undetermined length of time (DeBatto, 2004). A recent study of district surgeons in apartheid South Africa outlined the institutional mechanisms of complicity in abusive interrogations (Gready, 2007). These mechanisms include selection of cooperative health professionals, security clearance, and oath of secrecy; the “culture of obedience”; “professional isolation,” “fear of the consequences of dissent” (p. 418); the presence of third parties, such as interpreters and security personnel, during treatment (p. 420); “blurring of the division between custodial and clinical staff”; scheduling of patient visits according to the convenience of detention authorities; and so on. A system ostensibly designed to safeguard the detainees thus becomes a system to protect and legitimize the authorities (p. 428).
APA policy ignores the institutional context of psychologists in detention centers. Rather, it addresses psychologists in national security settings as morally autonomous agents serving as independent consultants. This view conforms to the military “virtue ethic” of officership, that is, the belief that individual character is the basis of conduct. The virtue ethic is inspirational for officer training and as an individual guide to conduct. But military ethicists have warned that, “The focus on character may prevent leaders from taking a critical look at the institutions they lead and thereby ensure that morally corrupting rules, structures, and systems remain” (Robinson, 2007, p. 31). In any case, the APA model of the morally autonomous psychologist, “absolutely prohibited from knowingly planning, designing, participating in or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques,” defies the classic empirical social psychological studies on conformity and obedience (Asch, Milgram, Zimbardo), as well as the recent findings on self-control in demanding situations (Baumeister, 2008).
In further disregard of psychological realism, APA policymakers have not inquired into the opinions of senior interrogators concerning the value of psychologists in interrogations. The several senior U.S. Army interrogators whom we have consulted state that they do not want the assistance of psychologists in interrogations. Col. Steve Kleinman, a 30-year veteran interrogator often cited on other matters by APA, stated this clearly during his 2007 APA Convention presentation (Kleinman, 2007). Nor do psychologists serve to raise the moral level of interrogations overall. According to these interrogators, psychologists’ efforts are misplaced in “softening up” detainees for novice interrogators and for extralegal, untrained amateurs. Instead, psychologists should direct their efforts toward selection of interrogation trainees and preparation of novice interrogators for superior, nonabusive, methods of interrogation. These methods require social perception, tolerance, cultural sensitivity, cognitive complexity, flexible thinking, situational awareness, and self-control (McCauley, 2007; Arrigo & Bennett, 2007). The proper mentor for a novice interrogator is not a psychologist but a senior interrogator. A senior interrogator needing consultation will ordinarily prefer another senior interrogator, as a psychotherapist will prefer consultation with another psychotherapist. Moreover, psychologists, who greatly outrank interrogators, easily interfere with the dynamics of the interrogator-source relationship (Bennett, 2007).
Patriotic psychologists could contribute ethically to the effectiveness of interrogation by taking the “expert-performance approach” articulated by cognitive psychologists. The same training requirements detailed by senior interrogators (McCauley, 2007; Arrigo & Bennett, 2007) are found in many other domains of measurable expertise, such as chess and musicianship (Ericsson & Ward, 2007): “10 years of intense preparation-even for the most ‘talented’,” “training situations with immediate valid feedback,” “deliberate practice…in maintaining expertise.” and so on (pp. 346 & 349). Recent cognitive research (Baumeister, Vohs, & Tice) also shows how various forms of self-control and initiative that are essential to effective interrogation-decision making, choice, creative problem solving, management of emotions, etc.- are quickly depleted through use. Indeed, “there are levels of depletion beyond which people may be unable to control themselves effectively, regardless of what is at stake” (p. 353). A senior interrogator gave this example: “In the high-adrenaline raid of a terrorist safe house, the direct interrogation approach of Special Forces may be to kick the captive in the head and then ask his name” (Arrigo & Bennett, 2007, p. 418). Scientific psychologists could research and promote the expert-performance approach to interrogation deemed effective by senior interrogators (McCauley, 2007). They could assist interrogators in establishing the necessary training programs and in securing resources (Arrigo & Bennett, 2007). Where is the APA opposition to the use of 18-year-old interrogators with 16 weeks of training and no professional mentorship?
Instead, the February 2008 Modification continues to accommodate interrogation practices championed by the Bush Administration; it leaves psychologists in place for the unethical and counterproductive purpose of destabilizing detainees through aversive techniques. But the Modification covers these psychologists with yet grander-still unoperationalized- ethical principles. In this way, APA contributes to the degradation and ineffectiveness of the armed services and intelligence agencies. Intelligence professionals are least of all deceived by high principles that have not been operationalized.
A truly significant Modification to the June 2005 APA PENS Report and August 2007 APA Resolution would add these requirements:
Psychologists, their trainees, and supervisees may serve only in detention sites where international human rights law is observed.
The American Psychological Association requests the Department of Defense to amend the U.S. Army Field Manual for Interrogation to: (a) prohibit military psychologists or their trainees or supervisees from participating in any phase of interrogations, including the review of a detainee’s medical files for use in an interrogation; (b) impose severe penalties for commanding officers who violate this regulation by way of coercion and/or threats against a psychologist or their trainees or supervisees; (c) train psychologists to submit written complaints through their chain of command to the Office of the Army Inspector General against any commanding officers who attempt to involve them in interrogations or to influence their mental health assessments of patients; (d) inform psychologists of the implications of their research or clinical work in regard to interrogations; (e) prohibit destruction, or concealment from legitimate investigation, any evidence of psychologists’ involvement in interrogations.
The American Psychological Association requests all other national security agencies and government contractors who employ or fund psychologists, their trainees, or supervisees to enact effective, corresponding regulations.
The obstacle to such requirements has been hidden financial interests. The APA’s effective refusal to assist and legitimize abusive interrogations under the Bush Administration would jeopardize the APA’s vigorous lobbying efforts for Department of Defense funding (see APA Science Policy Insider News, 2002-2007). These financial interests were represented by the participation of unacknowledged, high-level APA lobbyists in the original APA PENS Report (Arrigo, 2007). To turn the tide against psychologists’ participation in coercive interrogations we assert that APA lobbying efforts should be conducted transparently, with input from military ethicists as well as the general APA membership.
Thanks to Ray Bennett, U.S. Army Interrogator (ret’d), and to Stephen Soldz for critical reviews and additional information.
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