Thursday, May 08, 2008

Shrinking from Torture

Let there be wrinkling and wringing of neckties...

...and so it was at the seminar/panel on torture last weekend.

Lost to most of us in the coverage of enhanced interrogation techniques and euphemisms for inhuman and inhumane torture by the United States is the role of mental-health professionals, primarily psychologists. Aren't those the good guys, who help people out of emotional distress or on their way to personal fulfillment?

One of my closest, long-term friends is a psychologist. I use him as a model for his profession. He is godfather to one of my boys. I solemnized his marriage. We have socialized for over 40 years. From my experience knowing many shrinks, I think most are a lot like him. He's not the torturing kind.

Yet buried in the basket of horror stories from our black sites, Iraq prisons and GITMO is the insidious truth that some psychologists have gone to the dark side. Psychologists are and have long been far too deeply involved in our interrogation and torture development and practice. In fact, their applied expertise in developing techniques are already part of our clandestine services and military lore. In that sense, it's too late to rein in existing work in these efforts. However, the American Psychological Association (APA) and others can align them with the rest of the health professions by forbidding all future employment and contributions in illegal and immoral acts.

The APA is the only health or mental health association that has not forbidden its members from participating in torture. They recently were forced into a statement that they absolutely condemn torture. However, they have some crackpot loophole about how important it is for shrinks to be handy in case interrogated folk need their services. Basically it remains the psychologists' call.

That was a shocker to us naive sorts at the seminar. Most of the 150 or so in the audience and on the panel were mental-health professionals. They have followed and engaged in this fight for a long time. They know what's been happening and how wrong it is.

Apparently, it's no exaggeration to say that psychologists build the tools of torture. They have researched the how, how much, how long and other aspects of maximizing the pain and humiliation we use in our nefarious operations. Saying they should be ashamed of themselves doesn't begin to cover the situation.

Background reading: A series of key academic articles on the role of psychologists in modern interrogation is here.

The most obvious question to us outsiders is what would possibly inspire a mental-health professional to do such things, to help in such disgraceful efforts? While a few might speak in the jive terms of the Bush administration of patriotism, terrorism and protecting Americans, the panel thought otherwise. In fact at one point they nodded and spoke in agreement that money was key. Quite simply some psychologists have lucrative, long-term contracts with the military and clandestine agencies.

The professionals on the panel were:
Oddly enough, the officers of the APA seem okay with this. According to Soldz (shown left), six of nine of the group devising their position on torture were from military intelligence. The APA might disingenuously call them experts.

At the APA annual meeting in August, the members had before them a resolution to ban totally any involvement in interrogation and torture. Instead, the financial interests of the few created that loophole. It is the old gentleman's trick of relying on the honor of psychologists to do the right thing.

Yeah, yeah, the APA told the world, sure, we absolutely condemn torture. On the other hand, if our members think they need to be in the room or help devise methods, it's their call.

Very unfortunately, the Guantanamo interrogator sorts clasped the decision not to forbid psychologists from any participation as some sort of vindication. The chief biscuit (the pronunciation for the dark-side shrinks in the Behavioral Science Consultation Team [BSCT]), Army Col. Larry James crowed about his victory.

He is a psychologist as are the other biscuits. In a twisted article in the GITMO newspaper, he viewed this convention vote in frightening terms:
From a moral standpoint, it is always good to feel that not only do you have the support of your loved ones when you are deployed forward, but you also have the support of your professional peers around the country. It’s clear given the vote at the APA convention that there is overwhelming support for psychologists who wear the uniform all around the world in defense of this nation.
He may also be delusional, only in the nicest way, of course. Hip deep in what much of the world views as torture, he said, "The BSCT does not have any command authority over the interrogators or the guards. However, we work with them on a consulting basis where they will come to me and ask my opinion."

To him, if the biscuits don't give the orders, their hands are clean.

Back on planet Earth, Sloan-Rossiter (shown right) opened the panel by saying, "There is a powerful disconnect," in psychologists aiding brutal interrogation and flat out torture. He said simply, The APA has been complicit."

Soldz added that the APA "has never commented on psychologists' role" in these operations, and that it must. There is also a movement within the association to replace its officers who have failed to help pass an outright ban on involvement, as the peer health associations have already.

I identify in that I came out of journalism school and newspapers. I can't avoid the knowledge that many journalists have shilled for the worst of our politicians and promoted and published propaganda and outright lies. Not surprisingly, they have also done for a buck when they pretended it was ideologically motivated.

That sounds pretty parallel. On the other hand, there is no reporters' association or society that would forbid them from doing so and remove their credentials if they do. Psychologists have the edge there.

Related posts on this seminar: An overview of the seminar and views of why we permit torture.

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