Saturday, August 18, 2007

"Do No Harm"
Psychologists rally against torture

On Sunday, the American Psychological Association (APA), meeting in convention in San Francisco, will decide whether to adopt an ethical standard that prohibits members of the profession from orchestrating "interrogations" and torture for the U.S. government.

The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have such standards; the APA currently has a more equivocating standard that has been interpreted by some psychologists in ways reminiscent of how President Bush carefully parses non-denial denials of government lawlessness. Instead of simply declaring "torture is always wrong," the APA sounds proud that it keeps its place alongside the torturers. In March, its president told the Washington Monthly that

APA has chosen to stay engaged in the process of working to define and enforce ethical interrogations because we believe that it is the best way to prevent unethical behavior.

To a lot of psychologists, this sounds like wanting to be "in with in-crowd" at the cost of disgracing their profession -- and abetting the birth of an out-right torture state.

This July in Vanity Fair, Katherine Eban reported the apparent marriage between the APA and the U.S. military.

... a psychologist named Jean Maria Arrigo came to see me with a disturbing claim about the American Psychological Association, her profession's 148,000-member trade group. Arrigo had sat on a specially convened A.P.A. task force that, in July 2005, had ruled that psychologists could assist in military interrogations, despite angry objections from many in the profession. The task force also determined that, in cases where international human-rights law conflicts with U.S. law, psychologists could defer to the much looser U.S. standards -- what Arrigo called the "Rumsfeld definition" of humane treatment.

... I also discovered that psychologists weren't merely complicit in America's aggressive new interrogation regime. Psychologists, working in secrecy, had actually designed the tactics and trained interrogators in them while on contract to the C.I.A. Two psychologists in particular played a central role: James Elmer Mitchell, ... and his colleague Bruce Jessen. ...

Both worked in a classified military training program known as SERE -- for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape -- which trains soldiers to endure captivity in enemy hands. Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the tactics inflicted on SERE trainees for use on detainees in the global war on terror, according to psychologists and others with direct knowledge of their activities. The C.I.A. put them in charge of training interrogators in the brutal techniques, including "waterboarding," at its network of "black sites." In a statement, Mitchell and Jessen said, "We are proud of the work we have done for our country."

Many psychologists are simply disgusted.

Those working to get their association out of the torture business held a rally at Moscone Center late Friday afternoon. Several hundred psychologists and friends listened to impassioned denunciations of what they consider the association's current shifty stance.

Dr. Ghislaine Boulanger is a leader of the movement to "Withhold APA Dues" until the association unequivocally repudiates psychologists' involvement in torture. Of French origin, she compared those who participate in government "interrogation" schemes collaborators with the Nazis who worked in the Vichy government. She believes their stance "subjects psychology to contempt and derision."

Dr. Stephen Soldz, who blogs at Psyche, Science, and Society, charged that the APA has "done everything in its power" to keep psychologists in the "interrogation" business.

Dr Brad Olson emphasized that psychologists ought to be governed by the ancient medical injunction: "first do no harm."

People in the crowd stepped up to take "Stop Torture" buttons ...

... while Hector Aristizabal gave a preview of the show he was to perform later that evening as a benefit for Survivors International.

Let us hope we'll read on Monday that the American Psychological Association has come out clearly against torture. It doesn't seem a lot to expect of a "helping" profession. Campaigns like the one these psychologists are waging within their profession are a significant part of how we take our country back.

UPDATE: Sunday, August 18: According to AP:

After a raucous debate about what role - if any -- psychologists should play in U.S. government interrogations of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, the American Psychological Association voted overwhelmingly today to reject a measure that would have banned its members from those interrogations.

Looks like some members will be joining the movement to withhold dues, if Friday's rally is any indication.


Grandmère Mimi said...

We can hope. "Do no harm" seems good as a start for a helping profession..

Nell said...

That's very disappointing news about the scale of the 'no' vote.

sfmike said...

I've never had much faith in this particular "helping" profession, and now I have exactly zero.They've just signed their own ethical death warrant.

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