Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Should psychologists assist with torture?

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The American Psychological Association, unlike (for example) the American Medical Association, has been careful to take no position regarding the professional ethics of psychologists who assist in torture—and it’s known that psychologists have indeed been actively assisting the US program of torture. But the tide may be turning. Stephen Soldz, a psychologist and psychoanalyst and professor and director of the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis has written a column on the topic for the op-ed page of the Boston Globe. It begins:

When most people think of psychologists, they think of a professional helping them with life’s emotional difficulties, or of a researcher studying human or animal behavior. Since the Bush administration and the war on terrorism have transformed our country, however, a new, more ominous image of psychologists has slowly seeped into public consciousness.

Psychologists have been identified as key figures in the design and conduct of abuses against detainees in US custody at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA’s secret “black sites,” and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Psychologists should not be taking part in such practices.

Yet a steady stream of revelations from government documents, journalistic reports, and congressional hearings has revealed that psychologists designed the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which included locking prisoners in tiny cages in the fetal position, throwing them against the wall head first, prolonged nakedness, sexual humiliation, and waterboarding.

Jane Mayer, in her new book, “The Dark Side,” reports that the central idea was the psychological concept of “learned helplessness.” Individuals are denied all control over their world, lose their will, and become totally dependent upon their captors.

At Guantanamo, the Red Cross described a system of psychological abuse as “tantamount to torture.” Psychologists, and some psychiatrists, helped interrogators “break down” detainees by exploiting information in their medical records. Thus, someone with an intense fear of dogs would be threatened with snarling dogs, while a person with a fear of being buried alive might be threatened with being sealed in a coffin.

When reports of these abuses surfaced, we psychologists looked to our largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association, to take the lead in condemning them and taking measures to ensure that they would not recur. After all, these actions by psychologists violate the central principle of the APA’s ethics code: “Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm.”

The APA, however, failed to take clear action. While the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association quickly and unequivocally condemned any involvement by its membership in such activities, APA leaders quibbled over whether psychologists had been present at the interrogations and questioned the motives of internal critics.

When the leadership appointed a task force on the ethics of psychologist involvement in interrogations, …

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Written by Leisureguy

11 August 2008 at 8:19 am

Posted in Daily life

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