Thursday, August 13, 2009

APA: Heal Thyself PART I: End Torture Role!

This is the beginning of an effort for lay persons to support US Psychologists who want to end their fellows' involvment with torture. So for awhile until we form properly under the leadership of Psychologists, here are some updates and history of this effort.

Also see earlier posts on One Heart...

PART ONE: UPDATES since the recent Annual Conference in Toronto

Oregonian: A shadow has fallen on the profession, and the APA (American Psychologists Association): The Oregonian editorializes on the American Psychological Association’s relationship with US torture and detainee abuse. It contains PERHAPS THE STRONGEST condemnation of the APA so far:

A SHADOW HAS FALLEN on the profession, and the APA — and rightfully so.

The complete editorial:

Psychologists linked to Bush-era torture cast the profession in a bad light

By Editorial Board, The Oregonian

New details about the work of two psychologists after Sept. 11
raise questions about the American Psychological Association, too

You already know that the Constitution was mangled after Sept. 11, and that Bush-administration lawyers stretched U.S. law beyond recognition to rationalize torture. Less well known is the contribution two psychologists made to brutal interrogations.

On Wednesday, The New York Times showed how the two psychologists — both military retirees — became architects and early overseers of the Central Intelligence Agency’s harsh interrogation techniques.

To be fair, the two seem to have been infected by the same group-think panic that affected others within the administration. Said The Times:

Col. Steven M. Kleinman, an Air Force interrogator and intelligence officer who knows (the two psychologists), said he thought loyalty to their country in the panicky wake of the Sept. 11 attacks prompted their excursion into interrogation.He said the result was a tragedy for the country, and for them. “I feel their primary motivation was they thought they had skills and insights that would make the nation safer,” Colonel Kleinman said. “But good persons in extreme circumstances can do horrific things.”

What the newspaper did not touch on is the criticism, internal soul-searching and disgust within the psychology profession prompted by the role these two played. The American Psychological Association itself has come in for considerable criticism, often from its own members, because the APA failed to distance itself, early on, from the chilling notion that it was OK for psychologists to oversee military interrogations.

The rationalization has been that “24″-style situations would be even worse if psychologists weren’t around to put the brakes on. Some have said that the real fear, within the profession, was of limiting job opportunities within the military and chances for federal grants.

But no matter what the motivation, it’s pretty hard to understand how psychologists could ever countenance harsh interrogation techniques, like waterboarding, that qualify as torture. The ground-breaking experiments that psychologists have done, illuminating the tendency for humans to inflict pain on other humans when asked to do so by an authority figure, ought to have pointed the profession in the opposite direction.

In totalitarian countries, there’s a long history of “mental health” practitioners being entertwined with thought-controls and imprisonment. And this history should have made psychologists wary, as well. A chilling echo of this reverberates in the details about the psychologists, who seem to have set the dosage of discomfort for captives, and may have helped to ease the consciences of the people involved by giving harsh techniques a stamp of approval.

A shadow has fallen on the profession, and the APA — and rightfully so.

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