Oregon Psychologist Ronna Friend describes in her local newspaper her voyage of discovery into the sordid world of psychology, torture, and the American Psychological Association. This article was initially commissioned by the Oregon Psychological Association for its newsletter, but was ultimately rejected as “too controversial.”
I have now had similar experiences with three state psychological associations, being asked to write something or speak, only to be rejected. I was once told that a piece they commissioned was rejected because “no one from the other side would write a response!” What a wonderful way to censor dissident views.
Here is Friend’s article:
Mind games & torture
Military-trained psychologists had a hand in abuse at CIA black sites, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo
By Ronna Friend
For The Register-Guard
About five years ago I received a flier inviting me, as a licensed psychotherapist, to a workshop that offered training in interrogation techniques. The names of the techniques that participants would learn were unfamiliar, but sounded like coercion or worse.
I ran it by co-workers, uncomfortably joking that I could receive continuing education credits to be trained in torture. I thought I must have misunderstood, but it was disturbing.
I was more disturbed to find that a sponsor of the workshop was the American Psychological Association. I wrote the association asking for an explanation of the nature of the workshop and why the association was sponsoring it. I received no response.
Then, in August 2007, I read a newspaper article about a controversy within APA about psychologists’ involvement in torture at CIA “black sites” and Guantanamo. A group called Psychologists for an Ethical APA had protested at the APA convention in San Francisco. A proposal by APA members to limit the role of psychologists at Guantanamo and CIA “black sites” to the provision of psychological treatment had been overwhelmingly defeated by the APA Council of Representatives, even though the council had passed a resolution banning torture.
Having become concerned about the government’s use of torture since Sept. 11, 2001, I decided to find out more. During the last year, I’ve learned about psychologists’ involvement in the development and implementation of torture, and about the controversy within the association. I also learned about the relationship between military funding and the development of the field of psychology.
It has been a painful education.
Psychology had been primarily an academic discipline before World War II, but grew tremendously during and after the war in response to military needs. During the war, psychological studies were done on control of populations and quelling resistance, and on the screening and classification of soldiers into suitable jobs.
In 1943, the Office of Strategic Services, which later became the CIA, formed the first psychological assessment center in the United States. From 1945 to 1969, the Department of Defense was the largest institutional sponsor of psychological research.
In 1947, the CIA began recruiting psychologists to assist in psychological operations in response to the communist threat. Billions of dollars were spent between 1950 and 1963 on mind control programs, including the use of LSD, hypnosis and electroshock. When LSD research did not yield expected results, the CIA shifted to a more behavioral approach, in which psychologists played a central role.
Donald Hebb’s famous research on sensory deprivation became part of the foundation for the CIA’s strategy for psychological torture. Additionally, a group of psychologists established the Human Resources Research Organization in 1951, which studied the impact of “radical isolation” on hallucinations, mood, affect and stress.
Through these and other investigations, the CIA, with the help of psychologists, developed two key components of what was to become its strategy for breaking down prisoners: sensory deprivation and self-inflicted harm. These techniques have continued to the present day.
More recently, the National Institute of Mental Health has become a significant funding source for psychological research and training. However, military dollars have not declined and the military, along with NIMH, are the two main sources for funding for psychological research, training and treatment.
In the months shortly following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, two conferences brought psychologists together with the military in its development of counter-terrorism and interrogation strategies.
On Feb. 28, 2002, at a conference at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va, psychologists met with law enforcement officials to develop and use social science expertise in the War on Terror. And on Sept. 16, 2002, a conference for Guantanamo personnel was held at Fort Bragg, Calif. Its purpose was to determine the usefulness of “reverse engineered” Survival Evasion Resistance Escape techniques.
The SERE program began during the Korean War to help captured U.S. soldiers resist torture techniques expected to be used by the North Koreans and Communist Chinese. James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, psychologists with specializations in reverse-engineered SERE techniques and the use of isolation, provided their expertise to the Guantanamo Behavioral Science Consultation Team.
Since then, psychologists have played a central role in planning, conducting, and standardizing abusive interrogations at Guantanamo, CIA black sites and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. At both Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, prisoners were hooded and stood on boxes for prolonged periods. These are primary methods leading to mental breakdown, and they derive directly from the early torture research done by psychologists.
These black sites violate international law in a number of respects. Holding people indefinitely without charging them with a crime or providing access to legal representation are violations of the Geneva Conventions. Additionally, the conditions of confinement and the interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo amount to torture under international law.
Controversy about the involvement of psychologists in developing and implementing torture has had a massive impact on the American Psychological Association. In 2005, in response to members’ increasing concerns, the association created a task force on Psychological Ethics and National Security.
Task force members’ names were not disclosed initially, but it was later determined that six of nine voting members were from the military and intelligence agencies with direct connections to interrogations at Guantanamo and elsewhere.
The task force issued a report asserting that “psychologists do not engage in or abet cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.” Additionally, the report stated that psychologists might serve in “national security roles” only in a manner consistent with the APA ethics code.
As strong as this report sounded, it was challenged by many members of the APA. One of the strongest concerns was that according to the ethics code, psychologists who find themselves in situations where the principles of that code conflict with orders given by an authority may follow the orders, even if they result in unethical conduct.
Following the task force report, controversy increased within the APA. While the association’s leadership maintained a position that “psychologists have a critical role in keeping interrogations safe, legal, ethical and effective,” many members maintained that there is no reason to believe that psychologists, any more than other people, are able to resist the situational pressures that affect people involved in interrogations. There has not, for example, been a single report in the public record of a psychologist actively opposing abuse ordered or condoned by his or her chain of command.
Then, at its August 2007 convention, a call by APA members for a moratorium on psychologists’ participation in interrogations at detention facilities where fundamental human rights are being violated was replaced by a motion by the APA board that would ban psychologists participating in a number of specific interrogation techniques, while still allowing continued participation in detainee interrogations. In response, a number of prominent psychologists resigned from the APA, and more than 300 members withheld their dues in protest.
The APA Council then sent a statement about APA policy to various government officials that implicitly criticized U.S. government detention and interrogation policies, and it adopted a modification of its 2007 anti-torture position. However, this latest modification did not prohibit the involvement of psychologists in settings in which people are held outside of international law.
In the summer of 2008, the APA membership approved a referendum proposed by Psychologists for an Ethical APA. Rather than banning certain activities in detention centers, this resolution banned psychologists from working in these sites altogether unless they are working directly for a detainee or for a human rights group.
Other relevant professional organizations have taken unequivocal positions against their members’ participation in interrogation at these sites.
In June 2006, the American Medical Association adopted this position: “Physicians must neither conduct nor directly participate in an interrogation, because a role as physician-interrogator undermines the physician’s role as healer and thereby erodes trust in the individual physician-interrogator and in the medical profession.” The American Psychiatric Association took a similar position.
Recently, the Obama administration released the “torture memos” — four previously classified Office of Legal Counsel memoranda — documenting the authorization and use of torture under the Bush administration. These memos documented that psychologists participated in the planning and carrying out of the systematic abuse of U.S. detainees.
Many psychologists, as well as others, were stunned to learn about the key role that psychologists played. Various psychologist groups since have called for the creation of an independent commission to explore the role of psychologists in designing, using, supervising and justifying torture; to determine whether the association knowingly cooperated with the Department of Defense and the CIA in helping to plan, facilitate, provide official justification for, or hide the use of harsh interrogation methods; and the possible loss of professional license and/or criminal investigation for those psychologists found to have participated in these methods.
The ethical code of psychologists begins with “do no harm.” Aspiring psychologists enter the field to promote health and well-being.
Roy Eidelson, president-elect of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, summarizes the position of many mental health professionals:
“Foremost, as a profession we must confront the mind-sets and networks — of power, privilege and influence — by which our own core healing principles were abandoned for purposes that evoke our outrage, our bewilderment, and our shame.
“That will not be easy, but it is the only way forward.”
May 10th, 2009