Steven Miles has a new editorial in the British Medical Journal on medical complicity with torture and the spotty record of accountability:
Doctors’ complicity with torture: It is time for sanctions
By Steven H. Miles
It is an arresting thought. More doctors abet torture than treat the millions of victims. More than 100 countries condone the use of torture. A third to a half of torture survivors report that a doctor oversaw the abuse.1 Many prisoners never see the doctors who refined the techniques to minimise evidential scars, prolong pain, or cause psychological destruction.2 Estimates of the numbers of torture victims do not include people whose murders disappear when a doctor writes “natural causes” on a death certificate.
The medical profession ought to dissociate itself from torture-a practice that destroys institutions of civil society; that is used against colleagues of conscience, and that has far reaching adverse mental, physical, and social consequences. Instead, medical societies and licensing boards offer lofty condemnation, which is most ardently aimed at offenders abroad rather than accomplices at home.
Doctors who abet torture rarely face professional risks. Governments will not punish a doctor for helping them carry out their crimes. Few medical societies or licensing boards have the courage and constancy of vision to investigate or censure colleagues who carry out the law of the land. In principle, medical societies support ethics codes like the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Tokyo, which bars doctors from complying with torture. In practice, they sustain the policy of impunity.3
The exceptions are instructive. The Nuremberg trial of Nazi doctors for war crimes was the birth of bioethics. That admirable court was convened by victors over defendants from a vanquished nation. But it is the wrong place to look for solutions to the common problem of doctors complying with torture. The problem today is holding doctors accountable for abetting torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of their own citizens. Such cases have occurred after a torturing regime loses power. Brazilian medical licensing boards began investigating doctors for collaborating with torture during the last years of military rule. Initially, the government blocked sanctions against doctors; within a decade of civilian government sanctions against doctors took hold.4
In Greece, Dimitrios Kofas, a doctor stationed at the persecution section of a prison in Athens, was sentenced to prison within a year of the military junta being deposed.5 The Chilean Medical Society actively investigated complaints against doctors and expelled six doctors for overseeing torture during Pinochet’s rule.6 Three years after Argentina’s junta fell, Dr Jorge Berges was sentenced to prison for carrying out torture.7 A South African medical board tabled complaints against police doctors who failed to report or treat the fatal head injury inflicted by police on civil rights leader Steven Biko; two doctors were punished eight years after his death.8
A more secure foundation for this kind of accountability can and should be laid. The World Medical Association’s Declaration of Hamburg states that licensing boards should deny licences to doctors who are guilty of war crimes, including torture.9 Unfortunately, that declaration only applies to immigrating doctors who are accused of crimes in another country. For example, there was a successful campaign to deny a Belgian licence to an immigrant doctor who had been active in Rwanda’s genocide.10 The BMA is one of a few medical societies that support sanctions against doctors who torture, but it has not established a means to implement such sanctions.11
Countries wax and wane in their practice of torture. Foundations for making doctors accountable for this crime must be laid during periods of civil society. At such times, each national medical society and licensing agency should assert that medical complicity with torture and cruel inhuman or degrading treatment is a punishable breach of medical ethics that cannot be excused by law and for which there is no term limit. In the United States, California is considering a law that would ask its licensing agencies to inform health professionals that participating in coercive interrogation, torture, or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment may subject them to prosecution.12
The recruitment of the medical community in support of torture has far reaching effects. It harms prisoners. It deprives all prisoners of hope in the humanity of the medical staff. A civilian medical community that acquiesces to torture by its military members cannot credibly protest against foreign doctors who carry out torture. Such a community can hardly support doctors who are endangered for their resistance against torture. The prestige and values of medicine make it a crucial part of the campaign to abolish torture.
“I will guard my art and my life.” That pivotal promise of vigilance in the Hippocratic oath acknowledges that medical professionalism is not an easy virtue. Diverse enticements lure doctors from the core of medicine: “I will use regimens for the benefit of the ill but from what is to their harm or injustice, I will protect them.” Governments that practice torture need doctors. The medical accomplices of torture must not rest in the confidence that they can violate civil society and the ethics of medicine with impunity.
Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1088
Steven H Miles, professor of medicine and bioethics
1 Center for Bioethics, N504 Boynton, Minneapolis, MN 55414, USA
Competing interests: None declared. Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
From the archive: Two recent news stories have dealt with torture. Doctors protest against surgeon held for six years at Guantanomo (news story; doi: 10.1136/bmj.a1071); Medical evidence exposes US use of torture-includes embedded video clip (news story; doi: 10.1136/bmj.a490)
- Rasmussen OV. Medical aspects of torture. Dan Med Bull 1990;37(suppl 1):1-88.[ISI][Medline]
- Stover E, Nightingale E. The breaking of bodies and minds. Washington DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1985.
- World Medical Association. Guidelines for medical doctors concerning torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in relation to detention and imprisonment (Declaration of Tokyo). 2006. www.wma.net/e/policy/c18.htm.
- Amnesty International. Brazil. Human rights violations and the health professions. 1996. http://asiapacific.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR190251996?open&of=ENG-346.
- Amnesty International. Torture in Greece: the first torturers’ trial 1975. London: Amnesty International, 1977.
- BMA. Medicine betrayed. London: BMA, 1992.
- Human Rights Watch. Argentina. 2006. www.hrw.org/reports/2001/argentina/argen1201-02.htm.
- McLean GR, Jenkins T. The Steve Biko affair: a case study in medical ethics. Dev World Bioethics 2003;3:77-95.[CrossRef]
- World Medical Association. Statement on the licensing of physicians fleeing prosecution for serious criminal offences (Declaration of Hamburg). 1997. www.wma.net/e/policy/c16.htm.
- Hall P. Doctors and the war on terrorism. BMJ 2004;329:66.[Free Full Text]
- British Medical Association. The medical profession and human rights: handbook for a changing agenda. Torture. 2001. www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/Content/MedProfhumanRightsRecommendations#Torture.
- California Senate 19. Health professionals: torture. 2008. www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=sjr_19&sess=CUR&house=B&author=ridley-thomas.
Steven Miles, MD
N504 Boynton, 410 Church St SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0346
July 31st, 2008
Please join us. This is an issue for all concerned citizens, not just psychologists. All are welcome.
Come join Boston Psychologists for an Ethical APA
Rally at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention
Protest Psychologists’ Involvement in Abusive Interrogations and Illegal Detention
Where: Plaza at front entrance of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, 415 Summer St., Boston
When: Saturday, August 16th, 12:00-2:00
Voice your outrage at the APA’s continued acceptance of psychologists’ participation in Bush administration interrogations and detention centers where human rights and international law are continually violated. “There is no right way to do something wrong.”
This issue is of increasing concern to all citizens but of particular importance to us as psychologists because it violates our primary ethical obligation to “Do No Harm.” Our complicity in the current administration’s “privileged” war on terror is now well-documented.
Psychoanalysts for Social Responsibility (Div. 39 S9)
Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR)
Psychologists for an Ethical APA
Monterey Bay Psychological Association
Physicians for Human Rights
[More being added]
Entertainment by two Jazz-Blues performers:
Marlene del Rosario
We look forward to seeing you there on Saturday, the 16th.
Psychologists for an Ethical APA Calls for Protest Outside APA Convention
“A government is not the expression of the will of the people, but rather the expression of what the people will tolerate.”
We as psychologists and American citizens have become aware that our government has adopted torture and the denial of human rights for detainees as official policy. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, rendition and CIA “black sites” have irrevocably entered our language and consciousness. Waterboarding, sexual and religious humiliation, and denial of habeas corpus have become symbolic of a climate of disdain for human rights and human decency that has infected our government and been absorbed into our social fabric.
During the last several years, we have also become aware that psychologists have played central roles in the Bush regime of torture and detainee abuse. As has been documented by numerous journalists and official government reports, psychologists helped develop, implement, standardize, and disseminate abusive interrogation techniques that have led to torture. Other psychologists responsible for treating detainees, along with other health professionals, failed to act against abuses being committed upon those they were ethically obliged to heal and protect. Given the central role of our profession in perpetrating and abetting these abuses, the rest of us who represent the field bear a special responsibility to do all we can to stop the abuses and voice our objection.
Our professional association, the American Psychological Association, has failed us. While we expectantly listened for a clear moral voice opposing complicity with our government’s abuses, the APA engaged in a pattern of denial, deceit and distraction in support of its policy keeping psychologists engaged in interrogations at detention centers where human rights and international laws have been grossly and systematically violated. When we needed an ethics policy that underscored the importance of ethical behavior, the APA created a revised code which allowed the following of unethical laws and regulations, and which removed protections for research participants when permitted by law or government regulation. When we needed deep ethical discussion, the APA appointed an ethics task force dominated by military-intelligence psychologists, most of whom served in precisely those interrogation settings under debate. When we needed clear statements condemning ongoing U.S, government abuses, the APA passed resolution after resolution condemning “torture” and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” while failing ever to condemn, or even acknowledge, the ongoing abuses. When we needed action against those psychologists participating in abuses, we received denial after denial and delay after delay, making a continual mockery of ethics enforcement. And when we needed to indicate to the world that psychology was a profession with the highest ethical standards, the APA alone, of all the major health professions’ organizations, not only allowed continued participation in interrogations, violating the centuries-old “do no harm” ethical standards for health professions, but kept silent on known harms.
Last February, over six years after the first reports of US torture and abuse in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and later, Iraq, surfaced, the APA finally unambiguously condemned participation in 19 specific interrogation techniques. While this is a laudable, if long-delayed, first step, it is not enough.
Ø We must forever remove psychologists from detention centers where human rights and international law are violated; to do otherwise is to collude in those abuses.
Ø We must change our ethics code to no longer allow members to follow unethical laws or orders and to restore protections for all research participants.
Ø We must reevaluate the nature of the ties between the APA and the military-intelligence establishment to avoid participation in future unethical government activities.
Ø We must, in collaboration with other health professions, set up a Truth process to create a public record of the roles of psychologists and other health professionals in torture and other detainee abuse, and to recommend ethical, policy, and structural changes to reduce the likelihood that psychologists and other health professionals will collaborate with future abuses.
We call upon all APA members, psychologists, other health professionals, and citizens concerned with fundamental threats to human rights to let the Association know the time is long past due for real change. Please join us on the 16th of August to speak with a common voice against torture and for a return to an ethical psychology and an ethical American Psychological Association.
“A profession is not the expression of the will of its members, but rather the expression of what these members will tolerate.”
Psychologists for an Ethical APA
Let the APA leadership know that we will not tolerate collaboration with detainee abuse. Psychology must once again become a profession based upon fundamental ethical principles.
July 30th, 2008
Last summer an attempt by APA dissidents at a Moratorium on psychologist participation in interrogations at US Detention facilities was defeated at the Convention through a combination of parliamentary maneuvering and Council vote. Proponents of change have since regrouped and adopted a variety of new tactics. One was to utilize a never-before-used provision in the APA rules allowing for a referendum to be adopted by vote of the membership.
A referendum to remove psychologists from sites in violation of international law was proposed and was signed by the requisite 1one percent of the membership. Ballots will go out to the membership this week, due back in mid-September. Here is the referendum text, followed by the Pro and Con statements that will accompany the ballots:
We the undersigned APA members in good standing, pursuant to article IV.5 of the APA bylaws, do hereby petition that the following motion be submitted to APA members for their approval or disapproval, by referendum, with all urgency:
Whereas torture is an abhorrent practice in every way contrary to the APA’s stated mission of advancing psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting human welfare.
Whereas the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Mental Health and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have determined that treatment equivalent to torture has been taking place at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. 
Whereas this torture took place in the context of interrogations under the direction and supervision of Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCTs) that included psychologists. [2, 3]
Whereas the Council of Europe has determined that persons held in CIA black sites are subject to interrogation techniques that are also equivalent to torture , and because psychologists helped develop abusive interrogation techniques used at these sites. [3, 5]
Whereas the International Committee of the Red Cross determined in 2003 that the conditions in the US detention facility in Guantánamo Bay are themselves tantamount to torture , and therefore by their presence psychologists are playing a role in maintaining these conditions.
Be it resolved that psychologists may 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.
 United Nations Commission on Human Rights. (2006). Situation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from here. The full title of the ‘Special Rapporteur on Mental Health’ is the ‘Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health’.
 Miles, S. (2007). Medical ethics and the interrogation of Guantanamo 063. The American Journal of Bioethics, 7(4), 5. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from here.
 Office of the Inspector General, Department of Defense: Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from here.
 Council of Europe Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (2007). Secret detentions and illegal transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states: second report. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from here.
 Eban, K. (2007). Rorschach and Awe. Vanity Fair. Retrieved March 4, 2008, from here.
 Lewis, N. A. (2004, November 30). Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantánamo. New York Times, Retrieved March 4, 2008, from here.
 It is understood that military clinical psychologists would still be available to provide treatment for military personnel.
As psychologists, our first ethical principle is to do no harm; yet substantial documentation reveals that American psychologists have systematically designed and participated in interrogations that amount to torture. In addition, they have helped to legitimize cruel and abusive treatment in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the CIA blacksites.
Responding to these revelations, the APA has passed several resolutions barring psychologists from participating in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. These resolutions, however, are insufficient as they do not address the critical role that psychologists play in perpetuating harmful interrogation strategies and in maintaining conditions that the International Committee of the Red Cross has labeled “tantamount to torture.”
These concerns, which have propelled over a thousand APA psychologists to bring this referendum to the membership, are not hypothetical. Psychologists, as “consultants”, have been active in interrogations that have brought about extreme forms of torture. In at least one of these cases, the psychologist advocated for an escalation to even more extreme ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’
Psychologists have also played a critical role in this administration’s legal defense of torture. Justice Department lawyers have argued that torture can only take place if the perpetrator intends to cause ‘prolonged mental harm’ which, in turn, is measured by a subsequent diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychologists instead routinely provide diagnoses other than posttraumatic stress disorder, thus giving the illusion of safety and legal cover in otherwise objective instances of “torture”. Moreover, psychologists play a role in maintaining the conditions of detention, for instance, by removing “comfort items” such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and soap.
In settings that fail to meet basic standards of international law, it is unrealistic to rely on psychologists to challenge their superiors, report on violations, and protect abused detainees. We know, from decades of psychological research, that good people do bad things in bad situations. Psychologists are no less vulnerable to “behavioral drift” than others, particularly when subject to the chain of command in the closed environment of a geographically isolated detention center.
We do believe that psychologists working independently, and outside of the institution’s chain of command, can and should be available to detainees, through NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. In abusive settings, clinicians working in the chain of command cannot know whether they are helping detainees recover only to return them to more abusive interrogations; and detainees cannot gauge whether the information being gathered by the clinician will be used against them-as has been documented on several occasions. Instead, the proposed referendum policy places psychology and psychologists squarely on the side of the most vulnerable.
Some APA psychologists have argued that the presence of psychologists in these settings protects the detainee from abuse. Yet, in the six years since captives began arriving at Guantanamo, there have been few documented cases of psychologists speaking up on the behalf of detainees. There is significant evidence of many more cases of silence. While we commend anyone who has acted heroically, a reliance on individual heroism is an unsound basis for policy.
We stress that the referendum does not exclude any psychologist from working in any settings where international law and human rights are fundamentally upheld. Imperfect as our U.S. domestic justice system may be, people held within the present system have basic legal protections, including the right to know the charges against them, meet with an attorney, receive family visits and, most importantly, to be free of torture. This is in sharp contrast to the individuals gathered up and illegally taken to CIA blacksites. For the past 60 years, international law has held professionals responsible for upholding basic human rights. This referendum would thus protect psychologists from risk of future prosecutions.
Your vote in favor of the referendum will increase the independence of psychologists and protect the reputation of our discipline. The policy puts psychology and psychologists on the side of those who are the most vulnerable to mental harm. On behalf of Psychologists for an Ethical APA and all the APA members who have petitioned for this referendum, we strongly encourage you to research this topic through books, websites and articles, and to vote “yes” — to support human rights and to restore the integrity of American psychology.
Brad Olson, PhD
This Overbroad Petition Will Harm Vulnerable Populations and Put Ethical Psychologists at Risk
- This petition seeks to prohibit APA member psychologists from working in settings that are inconsistent with international law and/or the US Constitution. The petition’s “Be It Resolved” clause sets forth this prohibition even though a psychologist may adhere to all APA ethical standards, and despite the difficulty in determining whether a particular site meets the petition’s ambiguous criteria.
- The petition thus threatens to restrict the scope of practice for psychologists whose work in psychiatric hospitals, US correctional facilities, and countless other settings serves the public good each day.
- The petition is unnecessary given APA’s strongly worded Council resolutions against torture and concerted federal advocacy directed at the Bush administration and Congress.
- The unintended consequences arising from a resolution prohibiting locations of employment rather than unethical behavior make this petition impossible for us to support. Many psychologists are employed in settings where constitutional challenges arise. Such settings include jails, prisons, psychiatric hospitals and emergency rooms, and forensic units. Likewise, many psychologists work in settings that could be considered inconsistent with international standards, for example, settings where the death penalty may be administered. The “Be It Resolved” clause potentially affects thousands of APA members.
- While APA is clear that the petition, if adopted, is not enforceable, allegations that a psychologist was violating APA policy could arise in multiple venues (civil court; a licensing board; state psychological association, hospital, and other professional organizations’ ethics committees). Especially given the petition’s ambiguity regarding whether international standards and/or the US Constitution apply in a given instance, the petition places APA members doing good and ethical work in an untenable position of uncertainty regarding whether their practice is consistent with APA policy.
- The clause “unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights” would prevent psychologists in a prohibited setting from providing services to a person in psychological distress, since in most all settings psychologists work for the institution and not for the individual being held. Unlike the Ethics Code, the petition does not provide a way to resolve this ethical dilemma, i.e., between a prohibition from providing services and the need for services. (See e.g., Ethical Standard 2.02, Providing Services in Emergencies, allowing psychologists without the necessary training to provide services in emergent situations when other services are not available.) A psychologist who, in all good faith, assisted an individual in distress could nonetheless be in violation of APA policy.
- The sponsors’ good and noble intentions notwithstanding, for over two decades APA has held that torture is unethical and always prohibited. Five APA resolutions provide clear, explicit condemnations of torture. The last sentence of the 2008 resolution states: Psychologists are absolutely prohibited from knowingly planning, designing, participating or assisting in the use of all condemned techniques [Note: nearly two dozen techniques are enumerated] at any time and may not enlist others to employ these techniques in order to circumvent this resolution’s prohibition. APA has stated emphatically: Following orders is never a defense to torture.
- In August, 2007, the APA Council passed one of several resolutions condemning torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment. Council expressed “grave concern over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights” and “affirmed the prerogative of psychologists to refuse to work in such settings.” Council noted that “APA will explore ways to support psychologists who refuse to work in such settings or who refuse to obey orders that constitute torture.” APA has called upon US courts to reject testimony resulting from torture or abuse.
- APA has strongly and unequivocally condemned the abuse of detainees in letters to President Bush, Attorney General Mukasey, CIA Director Hayden, and members of Congress, and in articles in the media, and has urged the establishment of policies and procedures that fully protect the human rights of detainees, including judicial review of their detentions.
- The petition seeks to prevent psychologists from working where the federal, state, or local government is acting wrongly. The precedent-setting nature of this petition, which restricts the settings in which psychologists may work, raises insurmountable concerns. A highly unfortunate side effect of the petition will be to place at risk APA members who serve vulnerable populations and behave in legal, ethical, and entirely moral ways. This petition harms the very groups it seeks to protect: Vulnerable populations and ethical psychologists.
Robert J. Resnick, PhD
Now that you’ve seen the debate, please don’t throw those ballots away! And please vote in favor. This is our chance to change a disasterous policy which is casting shame upon the psychology profession while aiding the abuse of those in custody.
July 30th, 2008
The LA Times reports that the CIA’s name, or any of their activities, cannot be mentioned at the Military Commission “trials” underway at Guantanamo:
The name of the Central Intelligence Agency cannot be spoken in the war crimes trial here.
No records of the agency’s interrogations of Salim Ahmed Hamdan can be subpoenaed, and no agent can be called to testify about what he or she learned from Osama bin Laden’s former driver.
When defense attorney Harry H. Schneider Jr. attempted to demonstrate how many interrogations Hamdan had undergone in the months after his November 2001 arrest — at least 40 — he couldn’t list the CIA along with more than a dozen other agencies including the Secret Service and what was then known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
The prohibition against naming the CIA came in a “protective order” issued by the court at the government’s request. The tribunal’s deputy chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bruce A. Pagel, couldn’t say which agency sought the shield or what arguments were made to justify it.
“It’s a bit absurd to go through an entire trial pretending that the CIA doesn’t exist,” said Matt Pollard, a legal advisor for Amnesty International here to monitor the proceedings.
“The CIA plays a role with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay that has never been fully acknowledged, and the bottom line is that national security should never be claimed against any evidence of torture or human-rights violations.”
Of course, one can only wonder “What are they hiding?”
July 28th, 2008
Bryant Welch, the former Executive Director of the American Psychological Association’s Practice Directorate, has published an important new piece in the Psychologist-Psychoanalyst that attempts to explain why the APA has equivocated on psychologist support for Bush regime detention abuse. He has allowed me to reproduce it here [It can also be downloaded as a pdf: Why did the APA do it?]:
Why did the American Psychological Association do it?
By Bryant Welch
The regressive effects of current forms of political manipulation that I describe in my new book, State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind (Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, June, 2008) have not only affected American politics. They have also taken their toll on psychologists’ national organization, the American Psychological Association. Many APA members were shocked last year when APA twice refused to take an unequivocal stance against psychologists’ participation in the Bush detention centers. The fact that other health care organizations, typically more conservative than APA on humanitarian issues, were very outspoken about the issue made it all the more puzzling.
In human rights groups and liberal organizations around the world the arguments APA spokespersons advanced in support of APA’s position did not pass the red face test for credibility. Instead, their seemingly transparent disingenuousness only made the APA sound embarrassingly like the Bush Administration.
Banning psychologists’ participation in reputed torture mills was clearly unnecessary, it was argued. To do so would be an insult to military psychologists everywhere. Psychologists would never engage in torture. Further, psychologists’ participation in these detention centers was really an antidote to torture since psychologists’ presence could protect the potential torture victims. We psychologists were both too good and too important to join our professional colleagues in taking an absolutist moral position against one of the most shameful eras in our country’s history.
There are two questions that beg for answers. How did the APA form such an obviously close connection to the military? And why did the APA governance-the Board of Directors and the Council of Representatives-go along with the military interests? How could an organization of such bright and ethical people be rendered so incompetent to protect the profession from the horrible black eye they have given us?
I have had ample opportunity to observe both the inner workings of the APA and the personalities and organizational vicissitudes that have affected it over the last two decades. With one interruption, for most of the twenty year period from 1983 through 2003 I worked inside the APA central office as the first Executive Director of the APA Practice Directorate and served in several governance positions including Chair of the APA Board of Professional Affairs and member of the APA Council of Representatives.
When the torture issue broke last year, the answer to the first question about APA’s military connection seemed obvious to me. Since the early 1980′s APA has had a unique relationship with Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye’s office. Inouye, for much of that time, has served as Chair of the Subcommittee on Defense for the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Subcommittee has responsibility for all U.S. defense spending. One of Inouye’s administrative assistants, psychologist Patrick DeLeon, has long been active in the APA and served a term as APA president. For over twenty-five years relationships between APA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been strongly encouraged and closely coordinated by DeLeon. It was DeLeon acting on behalf of Inouye who initiated the DOD psychologist prescription demonstration project in the late 1980′s that began psychology’s efforts to secure prescriptive privileges.
For many APA governance members, most of whom have little Washington political experience, Dr. DeLeon is perceived as a canny politician and political force on Capitol Hill. The two most visible APA presidents on the torture issue, Ronald Levant and Gerald Koocher, based on personal discussions I have had with them in recent years, clearly hold DeLeon’s political savvy in high regard.
While I personally got along well with DeLeon and never doubted his commitment to psychology, his view of psychology and his sense of priorities were quite different from mine, and I did not share the positive assessments of Dr. DeLeon’s political prowess. I felt his priorities often had more to do with the status of psychology as reflected in comparatively minor issues that were often unconnected to issues that were of true importance to practitioners and patients. Rightly or wrongly, I often felt that an accurate sense of context was missing from his political analysis and objectives. It’s the same feeling I have now when I look aghast at what APA has done on the torture issue. Except this time, it is not something relatively innocuous.
Some people attempt to explain APA’s recent seemingly inexplicable behavior by assuming that large sums of money changed hands on the torture issue. I could certainly be wrong, but I think the more likely (and more remarkable) explanation is that those APA leaders making the decisions simply exercised judgment that was both that bad and that insensitive to the realities of the human suffering they were supporting..
Regardless, there is no question that APA had formed a strong relationship with military psychologists and the DOD through its connections with Inouye’s office.
But it is the second question that is probably more difficult to understand from afar. How could both the APA Board of Directors and the APA Council of Representatives support the military on this issue and subject the profession to such embarrassment by supporting a policy that is anathema to the vast majority of psychologists?
The moral decay and functional regression of an organization does not rise or fall with any single event any more than the fall of Rome truly occurred in 476 AD. What is clear to me, instead, is that the pluralistic and multi-faceted governing process that I witnessed when I first entered the APA in the early 1980′s was sharply curtailed during the 1990′s. Differences of opinion stopped and the APA suffered a terrible regression. Increasingly inbred, under the administration of Raymond Fowler, the association agenda was primarily and at times exclusively financial, focusing on making money both through real estate ventures and through what many of us felt was a an unwarranted, financially harsh treatment of APA employees.
More peculiarly, Fowler’s “agenda” for APA was encapsulated in the phrase “working together” a noble idea that to the best of my knowledge was never attached to any actual substantive agenda. Instead, it served as a means of social control, a subtle injunction against raising any of the conflictual issues, challenges, or ideas that need to be addressed in any vital and accountable organization. The APA became placid and increasingly detached.
The result was that much of the activity of the APA Council of Representatives turned away from substantive matters into an odd system of fawning over one another. Many members appeared to me to simply bathe in the good feeling that came from “working together.” For some, the bath was a narcissistic one and organizational regression became more debilitating. In other instances during this period, isolated dissent from rank and file members was stifled either with heavy handed letters from the APA attorney threatening legal action or by communications from prominent members of the APA governance threatening ethical action if policy protests were not discontinued.
The inept ability to deliberate on the torture issue was but the shocking denouement of an organizational process that was really set in motion in the early 1990′s largely to serve the convenience of a very small number of individuals.
As a result of the lengthy era of regression, the governance of APA was ill prepared for thoughtful deliberation on a matter as important as the torture issue. As I have written in State of Confusion when people are confused they are eager to be told what is real. The governance was simply over its head in trying to effectively deliberate on such an issue when there was organized support on the other side coming from the military interests supported by Koocher and Levant and possibly DeLeon.
When the torture issue arose, the Council, despite the efforts of several council members, fell victim to some of the very silly arguments described above. Council members were told that to oppose psychologists participation in the detention actions was to cruelly suggest that our colleagues might engage in torture. In a fashion chillingly characteristic of the gaslighter it was implied that those who raised concern about torture, were themselves torturing their colleagues who were working in the military. One prominent member of the APA governance gratuitously raised the ethnicity of one of the military psychologists seemingly opening the possibility that the opponents to torture were racist.
These arguments were then followed with the grandiose closing argument that psychologists presence at the detention centers was critical to make sure torture did not recur. We psychologists had a moral duty to prevent immoral behavior. The piano player once aroused to the possibility of what was going on upstairs was now necessary to prevent it. Yes, these were the arguments that carried the day in APA deliberations and enabled the military to have its way with the APA. In the more discerning eyes of the world, they have very little credibility.
But the gaslighting is not over, even now. There is one more step in the process. History will show this to be a despicable period of American history. The people who have supported APA’s position on this issue obviously do not want their legacy at APA to include that they supported a policy that failed to indict the detention centers. The recent history must be revised. In a seeming gesture of reconciliation the APA has offered to continue negotiating the matter with the dissident groups. In this fashion the historical revision has already begun. It may well be the final policy APA adopts will ultimately read the way it should have last summer and much, much earlier when it actually mattered. APA will “get it right” shortly before or shortly after George Bush leaves office. In leaving a final written policy that is like our sister organizations’ original policies, APA’s shocking failure at the critical time will appear never to have happened.
Such is the work of a regressed and chronically manipulated organization. Despite being an organization of psychologists, APA has been subjected to very little analysis. Psychologists are amongst the most moral and ethical people I know. They deserved better from their national organization, just as Americans have deserved better from their government.
This article originally appeared in Psychologist-Psychoanalyst, the newsletter of the Division of Psychoanalysis, Vol. XXVIII, No. 3 (Summer 2008), pp. 6-10.
Bryant L. Welch, JD, PhD is the author of the new book State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind (Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, June 10, 2008). He established the American Psychological Association Practice Directorate serving as its first executive director and currently lives and practices psychology on Hilton Head Island, SC. He can be reached directly via e-mail at email@example.com.
July 27th, 2008
Dahlia Lithwick in Slate discusses US torture policy, where the chief decision-makers all graduated from the Jack Bauer School of Law:
The Bauer of Suggestion
Our torture policy has deeper roots in Fox television than the Constitution.
By Dahlia Lithwick
The most influential legal thinker in the development of modern American interrogation policy is not a behavioral psychologist, international lawyer, or counterinsurgency expert. Reading both Jane Mayer’s stunning The Dark Side and Philippe Sands’ The Torture Team, I quickly realized that the prime mover of American interrogation doctrine is none other than the star of Fox television’s 24: Jack Bauer.
This fictional counterterrorism agent—a man never at a loss for something to do with an electrode—has his fingerprints all over U.S. interrogation policy. As Sands and Mayer tell it, the lawyers designing interrogation techniques cited Bauer more frequently than the Constitution.
According to British lawyer and writer Philippe Sands, Jack Bauer—played by Kiefer Sutherland—was an inspiration at early “brainstorming meetings” of military officials at Guantanamo in September of 2002. Diane Beaver, the staff judge advocate general who gave legal approval to 18 controversial new interrogation techniques including water-boarding, sexual humiliation, and terrorizing prisoners with dogs, told Sands that Bauer “gave people lots of ideas.” Michael Chertoff, the homeland-security chief, once gushed in a panel discussion on 24 organized by the Heritage Foundation that the show “reflects real life.”
John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who produced the so-called torture memos—simultaneously redefining both the laws of torture and logic—cites Bauer in his book War by Other Means. “What if, as the popular Fox television program ’24′ recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?” Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking in Canada last summer, shows a gift for this casual toggling between television and the Constitution. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Scalia said. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?”
There are many reasons that matriculation from the Jack Bauer School of Law would have encouraged even the most cautious legal thinkers to bend and eventually break the longstanding rules against torture. U.S. interrogators rarely if ever encounter a “ticking time bomb,” someone with detailed information about an imminent terror plot. But according to the Parents’ Television Council (one of several advocacy groups to have declared war on 24), Jack Bauer encounters a “ticking time-bomb” an average of 12 times per season. Given that each season allegedly represents a 24-hour period, Bauer encounters someone who needs torturing 12 times each day! Experienced interrogators know that information extracted through torture is rarely reliable. But Jack Bauer’s torture not only elicits the truth, it does so before commercial. He is a human polygraph who has a way with flesh-eating chemicals.
It’s no wonder high-ranking lawyers in the Bush administration erected an entire torture policy around the fictional edifice of Jack Bauer. He’s a hero. Men want to be him, and women want to be there to hand him the electrical cord. John Yoo wanted to change American torture law to accommodate him, and Justice Scalia wants to immunize him from prosecution. The problem is not just that they all saw themselves in Jack Bauer. The problem was their failure to see what Jack Bauer really represents in relation to the legal universe of 24.
For one thing, Jack Bauer operates outside the law, and he knows it. Nobody in the fictional world of 24 changes the rules to permit him to torture. For the most part, he does so fully aware that he is breaking the law. Bush administration officials turned that formula on its head. In an almost Nixonian twist, the new interrogation doctrine seems to have become: “If Jack Bauer does it, it can’t be illegal.”
Bauer is also willing to accept the consequences of his decisions to break the law. In fact, that is the real source of his heroism—to the extent one finds torture heroic. He makes a moral choice at odds with the prevailing system and accepts the consequences of the system’s judgment by periodically reinventing a whole new identity for himself or enduring punishment at the hands of foreign governments. The “heroism” of the Bush administration’s torture apologists is slightly less inspiring. None of them is willing to stand up and admit, as Bauer does, that yes, they did “whatever it takes.” They instead point fingers and cry, “Witch hunt.”
If you’re a fan of 24, you’ll enjoy The Dark Side. There you will meet Mamdouh Habib, an Australian captured in Pakistan, beaten by American interrogators with what he believed to be an “electric cattle prod,” and threatened with rape by dogs. He confessed to all sorts of things that weren’t true. He was released after three years without charges. You’ll also meet Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who experienced pretty much the same story, save that the beatings were with electrical cables. Arar was also released without explanation. He’s been cleared of any links to terrorism by the Canadian government. Jack Bauer would have known these men were not “ticking time bombs” inside of 10 minutes. Our real-life heroes had to torture them for years before realizing they were innocent.
That is, of course, the punch line. The lawyers who were dead set on unleashing an army of Jack Bauers against our enemies built a whole torture policy around a fictional character. But Bauer himself could have told them that one Jack Bauer—a man who deliberately lives outside the boundaries of law—would have been more than enough.
July 26th, 2008
The New York Times reported yesterday on a new study concluding that receipt of loans from the International Monetary Fund is associated with increased tuberculosis cases. The bottom line, from the Editors’ Summary (posted below the article):
“[T]hese results challenge the proposition that the forms of economic development promoted by the IMF necessarily improve public health”
Here is the Times article:
Rise in TB Is Linked to Loans From I.M.F.
By Nicholas Bakalar
The rapid rise in tuberculosis cases in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is strongly associated with the receipt of loans from the International Monetary Fund, a new study has found.
Critics of the fund have suggested that its financial requirements lead governments to reduce spending on health care to qualify for loans. This, the authors say, helps explain the connection.
The fund strongly disputes the finding, saying the former communist countries would be much worse off without the loans.
“Tuberculosis is a disease that takes time to develop,” said William Murray, a spokesman for the fund, “so presumably the increase in mortality rates must be linked to something that happened earlier than I.M.F. funding. This is just phony science.”
The researchers studied health records in 21 countries and found that obtaining an I.M.F. loan was associated with a 13.9 percent increase in new cases of tuberculosis each year, a 13.3 percent increase in the number of people living with the disease and a 16.6 percent increase in the number of tuberculosis deaths.
The study, being published online Tuesday in the journal PLoS Medicine, statistically controlled for numerous other factors that affect tuberculosis rates, including the prevalence of AIDS, inflation rates, urbanization, unemployment rates, the age of the population and improved surveillance.
The lead author, David Stuckler, a research associate at Cambridge University, defended the study against the fund’s criticisms, noting that the researchers considered whether increased mortality might have led to more loans rather than the other way around.
Instead, they found that the increase in tuberculosis mortality followed the lending; each 1 percent increase in credit was associated with a 0.9 percent increase in mortality. And when a country left an I.M.F. loan program, mortality rates dropped by an average of 31 percent.
“When you have one correlation, you raise an eyebrow,” Mr. Stuckler said. “But when you have more than 20 correlations pointing in the same direction, you start building a strong case for causality.”
The study can be read here. Here is the Editors’ Summary for the article:
Tuberculosis—a contagious, bacterial infection—has killed large numbers of people throughout human history. Over the last century improvements in public health began to reduce the incidence (the number of new cases in the population in a given time), prevalence (the number of infected people), and mortality rate (number of people dying each year) of tuberculosis in several countries. Many authorities thought that tuberculosis had become a disease of the past. It has become increasingly clear, however, that regions impacted by health and economic changes since the 1980s have continued to face a high and sometimes increasing burden of tuberculosis. In order to boost funding and resources for combating the global tuberculosis problem, the United Nations has set a target of halting and reversing increases in global tuberculosis incidence by 2015 as one of its Millennium Development Goals. Yet one region of the world—Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union—is not on track to achieve this goal.
Why Was This Study Done?
To achieve these targets, the World Health Organization (WHO) and tuberculosis physicians’ groups promote the expansion of detection and treatment efforts against tuberculosis. But these efforts depend on the maintenance of good health infrastructure to fund and support health-care workers, clinics, and hospitals. In countries with significant financial limitations, the development and maintenance of these health system resources are often dependent upon international donations and financial lending. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a major source of capital for resource-deprived countries, but it is unclear whether its economic reform programs have positive or negative effects on health and health infrastructures in recipient countries. There are indications, for example, that recipient countries sometimes reduce their public-health spending to meet the economic targets set by the IMF as conditions for its loans. In this study, the researchers examine the relationship between participating in IMF lending programs of varying sizes and durations by 21 post-communist Central and Eastern European and former Soviet Union countries and changes in tuberculosis incidence, prevalence, and mortality in these countries during the past two decades.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
To examine how participation in IMF lending programs affected tuberculosis control in these countries, the researchers developed a series of statistical models that take into account other variables (for example, directly observed therapy programs, HIV rates, military conflict, and urbanization) that might have affected tuberculosis control. Participation in an IMF program, they report, was associated with increases in tuberculosis incidence, prevalence, and mortality rate of about 15%, which corresponds to hundreds of thousands of new cases and deaths in this region. Each additional year of participation increased tuberculosis mortality rates by 4.1%; increases in the size of the IMF loan also corresponded to greater tuberculosis mortality rates. Conversely, when countries left IMF programs, tuberculosis mortality rates dropped by roughly one-third. The authors’ further statistical tests indicated that IMF lending was not a positive response to worsened tuberculosis control but precipitated this adverse outcome and that lending from non-IMF sources of funding was associated with decreases in tuberculosis mortality rates. Consistent with these results, IMF (but not non-IMF) programs were associated with reductions in government expenditures, tuberculosis program coverage, and the number of doctors per capita in each country. These findings associated with mortality were also found when analyzing tuberculosis incidence and prevalence data.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that IMF economic programs are associated with significantly worsened tuberculosis control in post-communist Central and Eastern European and former Soviet Union countries, independent of other political, health, and economic changes in these countries. Further research is needed to discover exactly which aspects of the IMF programs were associated with the adverse effects on tuberculosis control reported here and to see whether IMF loans have similar effects on tuberculosis control in other countries or on other non–tuberculosis-related health outcomes. For now, these results challenge the proposition that the forms of economic development promoted by the IMF necessarily improve public health. In particular, they put the onus on the IMF to critically evaluate the direct and indirect effects of its economic programs on public health.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050143.
July 23rd, 2008
Torture, and the Strategic Helplessness
of the American Psychological Association
By Stephen Soldz, Brad Olson, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Bryant Welch
Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
Jane Mayer’s new book, The Dark Side, has refocused attention on psychologists’ participation in Bush administration torture and detainee abuse. In one chapter Mayer provides previously undisclosed details about psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen’s role in the CIA’s brutal, “enhanced interrogation” techniques. These techniques apparently drew heavily on the theory of “learned helplessness” developed by former American Psychological Association President Martin Seligman. (Seligman’s work involved tormenting dogs with electrical shocks until they became totally unable or unwilling to extract themselves from the painful situation. Hence the phrase “learned helplessness.”)
Mayer reports and Seligman has confirmed that, in 2002, Seligman gave a three-hour lecture to the Navy SERE school in San Diego. SERE is the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape program, which attempts to inoculate pilots, special forces, and other potential high-value captives against torture, should they be captured by a power that does not respect the Geneva Conventions. For reasons that are not clear, Seligman reportedly was not invited to the presentation by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) that runs this program, but directly by the Central Intelligence Agency itself.
In responding to reports of his lecture to SERE psychologists, Dr. Seligman has confirmed the presence of both Mitchell and Jessen at his lecture. He also apparently asked his hosts if the lecture would be used for designing interrogation techniques. Seligman reports that they refused to answer his inquiry on the grounds of military security. Despite the reply, Seligman concluded that his presentation was intended solely to help SERE psychologists protect US troops. He also states unequivocally that he is personally opposed to torture.
The American Psychological Association (APA), the organization of which Seligman was president in 1999, echoed Dr. Seligman’s statement in a press release. The release denied allegations that Dr. Seligman knowingly contributed to the design of torture techniques. The APA, in its recent statements, neither denied nor addressed any of the other reports suggesting that the work of psychologists – including that of Seligman, Jessen, and Mitchell – was used to torture detainees. The only comment APA made about Jessen and Mitchell was that because they are not APA members they are not within the purview of the APA’s ethics committee.
What we do now know, from a report issued by the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and from documents released during recent hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), is that these SERE techniques, designed to ameliorate the effects of torture, were “reverse engineered,” transformed from ensuring the safety of our own soldiers, to orchestrating the abuse of detainees in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq. These documents reveal, further, that certain SERE psychologists shifted roles from supervising protective SERE programs to overseeing SERE-inspired abusive interrogations. Several reporters have named Mitchell and Jessen (former SERE psychologists under contract) as responsible for this “reverse-engineering” that was used at secret CIA “black sites”. The Senate Armed Senate Committee reported that other psychologists played a role in the “reverse-engineering” of SERE techniques for the Department of Defense at Guantánamo Bay and in Iraq. Senator Carl Levin, in his introductory comments to the hearings stated:
“a… senior CIA lawyer, Jonathan Fredman, who was chief counsel to the CIA’s CounterTerrorism Center, went to [Guantanamo] attended a meeting of GTMO staff and discussed a memo proposing the use of aggressive interrogation techniques. That memo had been drafted by a psychologist and psychiatrist from [Guantanamo] who, a couple of weeks earlier, had attended the training given at Fort Bragg by instructors from the JPRA SERE school…While the memo remains classified, minutes from the meeting where it was discussed are not. Those minutes … clearly show that the focus of the discussion was aggressive techniques for use against detainees.”
The psychologist referred to in Levin’s opening remarks was APA member, Maj. John Leso, whose recommendations at that meeting included “sleep deprivation, withholding food, isolation, loss of time…[to] foster dependence and compliance”. Also reported in the hearings was that psychologist Col. Morgan Banks had provided training in abusive SERE techniques to Guantánamo interrogators. Col. Banks, while not an APA member, was appointed to the APA’s Psychological Ethics and National Security (PENS) task force on interrogations. APA has yet to comment upon the startling revelations of psychologist complicity from these committee hearings.
According to Mayer in The Dark Side, and other reporters over the past three years, in the weeks following Seligman’s lecture, Mitchell made liberal use of the “learned helplessness” paradigm in the harsh tactics he designed to interrogate prisoners held by the CIA. One prisoner was repeatedly locked in a fetal position; in a cage too tiny for him to do anything, other than to lie still in a fetal position. The cage was evidently designed not only to restrict movement, but also to make breathing difficult. In periods where the detainee was outside of the cage, the torture mechanism always remained in plain view so the detainee was constantly aware of his pending return to the device.
Another detainee was suspended on his toes with his wrists manacled above his head. This detainee, however, had a prosthesis that agents removed so that he either balanced on one foot for hours on end or hung suspended from his wrists.
Most detainees were subjected to long periods of isolation, often in total darkness, and often while naked. Human contact in these periods was minimized. In one case, the only human contact for a detainee occurred from a single daily visit when a masked man would show up to state, “You know what I want,” and then disappear.
Based on these media reports and government documents, it seems likely that Dr. Seligman’s work on “learned helplessness” was used to aid the development of these torture techniques following his presentation at the SERE school.
APA’s response to the Seligman matter is perplexing. If Dr. Seligman’s report is accurate, and he was kept from knowing how the CIA would be using his material because he did not have security clearance, Seligman was evidently duped. At a minimum, one would hope the APA would be concerned enough about this deception to sound a cautionary alarm against psychologists’ naive engagement with government programs potentially involved in interrogation abuses.
Instead, the APA has put extraordinary effort into maintaining and expanding opportunities for psychologists to serve US intelligence and security institutions. As the APA’s Science Policy Insider News (SPIN) proudly announced in January 2005, “Since 9/11 psychologists have searched for opportunities to contribute to the nation’s counter terrorism and homeland security agenda.”
These efforts included cosponsoring a conference with the CIA to investigate the efficacy of enhanced interrogation techniques, including the use of drugs and sensory bombardment. Among the reported organizers of that conference was APA member Kirk Hubbard, Chief of the Research & Analysis Branch, Operational Assessment Division of the CIA. Hubbard recruited the “operational expertise” for that conference. Among the attendees to this “by-invitation-only” conference were Mitchell and Jessen. (Hubbard also helped organize the event at which Seligman spoke and to which Mitchell and Jessen were invited.)
In addition, the APA co-sponsored a conference with the FBI during which it was suggested that therapists report to law-enforcement officials information obtained during therapy sessions regarding “national security risk.” And just this past June, APA’s efforts included lobbying for the retention of “invaluable behavioral science programs within DoD’s Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) as it reorganizes and loses personnel strength.” For those who are not familiar with this issue, the CIFA program was closed down because of numerous scandals, including: misuse of national security letters to gain access to private citizen’s financial information without warrants, the resignation of a Congressman accused of accepting bribes in exchange for CIFA contracts, and, according to the New York Times, the collection of a wide-reaching domestic “database that included information about antiwar protests planned at churches, schools and Quaker meeting halls.” The CIFA psychology directorate, although a top secret operation, was known for its risk assessments of Guantánamo detainees, including feeding questions to interrogators.
The issues of psychologist involvement in “national security” efforts are complex. Although there may be appropriate and ethically acceptable ways for psychologists to participate in such activities, even a cursory historical awareness indicates that such involvement is often ethically problematic. Whether for good or for ill, the CIA has a long record of tapping academic scientists as witting and unwitting consultants and researchers, and of providing protection through cover stories and secrecy. For example, the 1977 Senate investigation of the CIA Behavioral Modification Project (called MKULTRA) disclosed that the CIA had contracted with researchers at over 80 universities, hospitals, and other research-based institutions through a front funding agency. In the Senate hearing, the Director of Central Intelligence stated: “I believe we all owe a moral obligation to these researchers and institutions to protect them from any unjustified embarrassment or damage to their reputations which revelations of their identities might bring.”[i] But these are not just ploys of the past. Recently, Dr. Belinda Canton, a long-time CIA intelligence manager and a member of the 2005 President’s Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, recommended opportunistic use of scientists as an approach to management of uncertainty: “Identify academics and scientists who may have insights” and note where “opportunities exist to exploit scientific cadre.”[ii]
This history, along with the current, well-documented authorizations for detainee abuse, should have provided sufficient warning to APA leaders and to individual psychologists about the moral risks in aiding the national security apparatus, especially under the present U.S. administration. But the APA has not taken the lead in helping psychologists confront these dangerous ethical situations. To the contrary, the APA has been insensitive to the use of psychological techniques in torture and to the role of psychologists in aiding that torture. This insensitivity itself has shocked many psychologists here and abroad.
In 2006, Time magazine released the interrogation log of Guantanamo detainee 063, Mohammed al-Qahtani. This log demonstrated that al-Qahtani had been systematically tortured for six weeks in late 2002 and 2003. The log also alleged that psychologist and APA member Maj. John Leso was present at least several times during these episodes. The APA said nothing about this alleged participation of an APA member in documented torture. It is at least 23 months since ethics complaints were filed against Dr. Leso and still the APA has remained silent.
In May 2007, the Defense Department declassified the Office of Inspector General report, documenting the role of SERE psychologists in training military and CIA personnel in techniques of abuse that “violated the Geneva Conventions.” The APA responded with silence. When we inquired about the APA’s reaction, we were told that the organization needed time to “carefully study” the report. It has been 14 months, and to date no APA leader has commented upon the Report.
The APA leadership has failed psychologists and failed the profession of psychology. It has also failed the country. When ethical guidance was required, the APA put its ethical authority in the hands of those involved in the questionable practices that needed investigation. When the evidence became overwhelming that psychologists helped design, implement, and standardize a U.S. torture regime, the APA remained silent. When it was reported that the use of psychological paradigms such as ‘learned helplessness’ have guided psychologists’ manipulation of detainee conditions, the APA continues to ignore or discount these reports. They instead assert that psychologists presence’ at CIA black sites and detention camps “assures safety.” When it became clear that the APA should offer a strong voice and a clear policy prohibiting psychologists’ participation in operations that systematically violate the Geneva conventions and international law, the APA leadership raised concern that a “restraint of trade” lawsuit might be brought against them. These arguments, of course, do not pass the red face test in any discerning forum of world opinion.
These are not our values. The APA leadership has shamed us and our profession with its strategic helplessness. It is time for the APA to clarify that psychologists may not ethically support in any way abusive or coercive interrogation tactics in any settings. It is also time to identify and hold publicly responsible the individual psychologists who have created the institution that the APA has now become. It is time to hold these psychologists accountable for developing the widespread and systematic moral failures in the organization’s current infrastructure. Indeed, if we do not do this, then we, too, are complicit with torture.
[i] U.S. Senate, Select Committee on Intelligence and Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resources. (1977) Project MKULTRA: the CIA’s program of research in behavioral modification. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. Pp. 7, 12-13, 123 & 148-149.
[ii] Canton, Belinda. (2008). The active management of uncertainty. International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, 21 (3): 487-518.]
July 22nd, 2008