Psychologists Preferred For Detainees

Published: June 7, 2006

New York Times

WASHINGTON, June 6 — Pentagon officials said Tuesday that they would try to use only psychologists, and not psychiatrists, to help interrogators devise strategies to get information from detainees at places like Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The new policy follows by little more than two weeks an overwhelming vote by the American Psychiatric Association discouraging its members from participating in those efforts.

Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told reporters that the new policy favoring the use of psychologists over psychiatrists was a recognition of differing positions taken by their respective professional groups.

The military had been using psychiatrists and psychologists alike on behavioral science consultation teams, called "biscuit" teams because of the acronym, to advise interrogators on how best to obtain information from prisoners.

But Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, recent past president of the American Psychiatric Association, noted in an interview that the group adopted a policy in May unequivocally stating that its members should not be part of the teams.

The counterpart group for psychologists, the American Psychological Association, has endorsed a different policy. It said last July that its members serving as consultants to interrogations involving national security should be "mindful of factors unique to these roles and contexts that require special ethical consideration."

Stephen Behnke, director of ethics for the organization, said psychologists knew not to participate in activities that harmed detainees. But Dr. Behnke also said the group believed that helping military interrogators made a valuable contribution because it was part of an effort to prevent terrorism.

Former military interrogators at Guantánamo told The New York Times last year that some psychiatrists and psychologists had advised them on how to "break" detainees to make them more cooperative. The former interrogators said they had been counseled on how to use a detainee's fears and longings to increase distress. One example was their taking advantage of a prisoner's fear of the dark, known from his medical records.

Dr. Winkenwerder, the Pentagon official, disputed those assertions Tuesday, saying he did not believe that such counseling had occurred. He said the biscuit teams gave interrogators advice only on how to establish a positive rapport with detainees.